Tag Archives: Martyr

St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 18, 2017

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St. Bartholomew

A true Israelite without duplicity

When Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel, saw Bartholomew, Jesus said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47). This was not an ordinary comment or simple observation. It was a keen insight and a tremendous compliment.

The “true Israelite” of the Old Testament is Jacob. After Jacob wrestled with an angel, the angel gave him the name “Israel” (Gn 32:29), a name that God confirmed (Gn 35:10). Jacob is the first and original Israelite. He is the third patriarch. His grandparents were Abraham and Sarah, and his parents were Isaac and Rebekah. He had a twin brother, Esau, who was born first (Gn 25:21-26) and possessed the birthright. Jacob was devious or duplicitous because he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the birthright that he intended to give to his firstborn son Esau (Gn 27). Jacob may have been a true Israelite, but he sinned; he was a man with duplicity.

Bartholomew excelled his ancestor Jacob. Bartholomew was not an Israelite in name alone. It was a description of his spiritual condition, the state of his soul. He was a model Jew, a man who loved God with his whole heart and embraced his Jewish faith. He was righteous in that he meticulously observed the Mosaic Law. He was just and honest, truthful and trustworthy, a man of integrity with impeccable character. As a true Israelite, he was also a man of prayer, and his prayerfulness showed itself in his virtue. He was loving and kind, patient and understanding, humble and gentle, well-mannered and polite, compassionate and merciful, generous and faithful, modest and pure, industrious and reliable, and attentive to the needs of others, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. He was pleasing to God and a shining example to others of how to live the Jewish faith.

Bartholomew was unlike his spiritual ancestor Jacob. Jacob was duplicitous and Bartholomew was not. Duplicity means two or double. A duplicitous person is two-faced, someone who projects a good and honorable outward appearance yet has a hidden dark evil side; an individual who is sly, sneaky, and dishonest. Jacob deceived his father Isaac. Jacob wore his brother’s clothes, covered his smooth skin with animal hides, brought his father a meal that he neither caught nor prepared, and lied when he impersonated his brother.

Bartholomew, on the other hand, was a man without duplicity. He was good inside and out. There was no conniving or scheming, no secret agendas or ulterior motives. He was honest, straightforward, trustworthy, and innocent. Everything was above board. When it came to Bartholomew, “what you see is what you get.”

Bartholomew is a model and an inspiration for how to be a disciple of Jesus. As Bartholomew was a true Israelite, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be a true Christian, and as Bartholomew was a man without duplicity, it should be the goal of every Catholic to be good inside and out.

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St. James the Lesser, Apostle and Martyr

April 29, 2016

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StJamesLesserApostolic Identity.  There are two St. James among the original twelve apostles:  St. James the Greater whose feast is on July 25, and St. James the Less, the Lesser, or the Minor, whose feast is on May 3 and shared with St. Philip.  He is the second James on the New Testament lists of apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).  There are several explanations for why he is called “less.”  The most widely accepted reason is that he was younger than the other James who was greater in years.  Some believe that it was because of his short stature, that he was lesser in height, or because he was called at a later time than James the Greater.

Family Relationship.  St. James was the son of Alphaeus and Mary (Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40).  His brother was Joseph or Joses. He is also known as the brother or cousin of the Lord.  The people of Nazareth asked of Jesus, “[Are not] his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” (Mt 13:55; see Mt 12:46), or “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mk 6:3).

Special Encounter.  Jesus appeared to James after he rose from the dead (1 Cor 15:7).

Apostolic Ministry.  James was the head of the early Christian church in Jerusalem and is regarded as its first bishop. When Peter was released from prison, he asked that word be sent to James (Acts 12:17).  James presided over the Council of Jerusalem in 51 AD, and with great wisdom and compassion, argued that Gentile converts not be obligated to follow the Jewish dietary laws (Acts 15:13-21), and because of his fairness, he is also known as James the Just.  Paul met with James in Jerusalem at least twice, once in 37 AD after he had spent fifteen days with Peter (Gal 1:18-19), and again in 56 AD when he conferred with James and the other presbyters (Acts 21:18).  Paul called James a “pillar” of the community, along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9), and acknowledged that he had a role in commissioning Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  The Letter of James is attributed to him (Jas 1:1).

A Martyr’s Death.  James preached the gospel with exceptional zeal in Jerusalem for over thirty years, and he inspired many people to become believers in Jesus.  His successes were met with fierce opposition by the leaders of the Jews who wanted to kill him.  In 62 AD a group of furious scribes and Pharisees demanded that James renounce Jesus, and when he flatly refused, they apprehended him, stormed to the pinnacle of the Temple and hurled him down to an angry mob below.  Still alive, the mob began to stone him, and as he prayed for their forgiveness, he was bludgeoned to death with clubs.

Symbols.  In religious art, St. James is represented by a bat or a fuller’s club as well as one or more stones, the instruments of his martyrdom, or an image of the Temple because he was thrown from it.  He is also sometimes depicted with a book or a scroll because he preached the gospel, with a pastoral staff or a walking stick because he was the shepherd of the church of Jerusalem, or a green branch or palm because he was a martyr.  There is another not widely accepted tradition that he was cut in half, so he is sometimes represented by a saw.

Patronage.  Along with St. Joseph, he is the patron saint of the dying.  He is also the patron saint of fullers, those who clean, shrink, and thicken cloth; hatters; and druggists.

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St. Adalbert of Prague, Bishop and Martyr

April 22, 2016

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StAdalbertSt. Adalbert of Prague was born in 956 in Bohemia into the Christian upper class Slavnik family.  His baptismal name is variously reported as Wojciech, Voytiekh, and Voytech.  He went to Magdeburg, Germany, and was educated by its archbishop, St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, who changed his name to Adalbert when he received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

When the older St. Adalbert died in 981, the younger Adalbert returned to Bohemia, and a year later, in 982, at the age of 26, was elected the bishop of Prague.  He entered the city barefoot, intent on bringing Christianity to the Czechs.

As bishop, he worked tirelessly to inspire Christians to live holier lives, to bring the gospel to non-believers in Hungary and Bohemia, and to reform the clergy. It was a bitter struggle.  He was resisted by stubborn clergy and political opponents.  His missionary work had achieved modest success.  Deeply disappointed, he was forced to leave Prague in 990 and fled to Rome.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Bishop Adalbert went to the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Boniface and Alexis where he became a monk.  Meanwhile, in 992 Duke Boleslaus of Poland petitioned the Pope that Bishop Adalbert be sent back to Prague, and subsequently Pope John XV reassigned Adalbert to his former post.

Bishop Adalbert had a tumultuous return.  A noblewoman had been convicted of adultery.  The crowd wanted her punished, but because she was repentant and the mob unruly, as an act of compassion the bishop gave her safe haven in the church.  The mob attacked, stormed the church, and killed her, by some reports, at the altar, by other reports, in the street.  In punishment for their evildoing, Bishop Adalbert excommunicated all those who participated in her execution.  The throng considered the penalty excessive and shifted their rage toward the bishop and his family.  Some of his relatives were murdered.  He was rejected, and fled to Rome a second time.

Again, there was a papal intervention.  The new pope, Gregory V, ordered Bishop Adalbert to return, but not to Prague.  Instead, the Pope allowed Adalbert to be a missionary.  Initially, he went to Poland, and then to the Prussians in Pomerania along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.  While he went to preach the gospel, the local residents thought he was a Polish spy and executed him with his two companions, Benedict and Gaudentius, near Gdansk (Danzig) on April 23, 997, and was buried in Gniezno, the first capital of Poland.  His relics were transferred to Prague in 1039.

St. Adalbert of Prague was held in great esteem as a courageous martyr, outstanding missionary, and a monastic, and his popularity spread rapidly throughout Poland, eastern Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, and his heroic witness served to inspire further missionary efforts in central and eastern Europe.  He is the patron saint of Poland, Bohemia, the Czech Republic, and Prussia.

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St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, (d. 107 AD)

October 16, 2015

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St. Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Rome c. 107 AD.

St. Ignatius was from Antioch, the capital city of the Roman province of Syria.  Little is known about the first part of his life.  He was born around the year 35 AD, probably to pagan parents, and he later converted to Christianity.  He may have been a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.

St. Peter the apostle presided over the newly formed church of Antioch as its first bishop before he moved to Rome.  St. Evodius served as the second bishop, and upon his death in 69 AD, St. Ignatius became the third bishop, and he served for thirty-eight years.

The first portion of his episcopacy was relatively peaceful, but circumstances changed dramatically when the Roman Emperor Trajan came to power in 105.  Trajan believed that he had achieved his military successes because of the pagan gods, and because he honored them, he expected others to do likewise.  According to a popular legend that is historically unreliable, Trajan made an imperial visit to Antioch, ordered the arrest of St. Ignatius, and personally interrogated him (see Butler’s Lives of the Saints).  Because St. Ignatius refused to renounce his faith or to worship pagan gods, he was condemned to death, and Trajan ordered that he be taken to Rome to be thrown to the animals to die.

St. Ignatius was taken to Rome by ship with a military escort of ten soldiers who treated him with cruelty.  The ship hugged the coastlines of Asia Minor or Turkey and Greece, and the ship made a number of stops along the way.  At each seaport St. Ignatius was warmly greeted by the Christians of the area.

St. Ignatius had extended stays at two seaports, and during these delays he was able to write seven letters.  His first four letters were written in Smyrna, and he addressed them to the Christian communities in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. His last three letters were written in Troas, two which were directed to the Christian communities in Philadelphia and Smyrna, the other to St. Polycarp.

St. Ignatius wrote on a variety of topics and proved to be one of the greatest teachers of the early Church.  He declared that “Jesus Christ is our only teacher.”  He emphasized the two natures of Jesus, his humanity and divinity, and that he had a real human birth and suffered a real human death, and he repudiated Docetism, a heresy that denied Jesus’ human nature and claimed that he was only divine.  He stressed the value of the Eucharist, “the medicine of immortality,” and reflected upon the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, and salvation.

St. Ignatius also wrote about the character of the Church.  He explained that it is both a mystical and hierarchical reality:  mystical in that Jesus is truly present in the community of believers, hierarchical in that it is well-ordered and unified under the authority of the bishop.  He was the first person to describe the church as “Catholic,” a term he used to refer to all Christians.  In his letter to the church of Rome, he acknowledged its place as first among the other churches, and aware of his impending martyrdom, he pleaded with them not to interfere so he would be allowed the grace to die for Christ and witness his faith with his life.

St. Ignatius arrived in Rome on December 20, 107, the last day of the public games, and he was taken directly to the amphitheater where he was devoured by two fierce lions before a large crowd.  He is an Apostolic Father, and his name is included in the second martyrology of Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

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St. George, Martyr and Dragon-Slayer

April 20, 2012

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St. George at Seven Dolors in Albany, MN.

April 23 is the feast day of St. George, Martyr.

St. George, Fact and Fiction.  Almost nothing historical is known about St. George.  Shreds of factual data suggest that he was a Christian who lived during the late Third Century when there were fierce persecutions against the Church, and that he was beheaded in Lydda, Palestine, sometime around 303 AD.  Over the ensuing centuries his popularity grew enormously, and in the Twelfth Century a fantastic legend emerged about him as a dragon-slayer.  The story is folklore, not history, but captivating nonetheless.

A Dragon with Halitosis.  The tale begins with George, a Christian knight, attired in armor and mounted on a mighty steed.  In his travels he came upon Sylene, a city in Libya, North Africa.  The city was near a marshy swamp where a fierce dragon prowled about, and it ventured forth from time to time, and it terrorized the countryside.  The local citizens banded together to mount an attack to kill it, but the dragon’s breath was so horrible that they were not able to get close enough to accomplish their mission.

A Devouring Dragon.  The dragon had a ferocious appetite, so to prevent the dragon from entering the city the residents fed it with two sheep each day.  When the supply of sheep ran out, a person was chosen by lot to be given to the dragon to eat.  On one occasion the lot fell to the king’s own daughter, and no one was willing to take her place.  The young princess was marched out to the dragon, dressed as a bride to meet her doom.

St. George to the Rescue.  George arrived at the outskirts of the city at this tragic moment.  He attacked the dragon, and with his lance he speared it, nailing it to the ground, but without killing it.  Then he took the king’s daughter’s girdle and tied it around the dragon’s neck, and the princess, taking hold of the garment, used it to tow the dragon into the city, the beast following tamely behind.

A Bargain to Slay the Dragon.  With the dragon inside the city, the residents were overcome with mortal anguish, and as they were about to flee George told them that they had nothing to fear, and declared, “If you believe in Jesus Christ, and if you will consent to baptism, then I will kill the dragon.”  The king and his subjects quickly agreed, so St. George squared off with the dragon and courageously slayed it.  Next, fifteen thousand were baptized.  The king offered George great treasure, but he refused it and instructed the king to give it to the poor.  As George departed, he made four requests of the king:  keep the churches in good repair; honor the priests; attend church services regularly yourself; and show special concern for the poor.

Patronage.  St. George was the patron saint of the Crusades, knights and soldiers.  Currently he is revered as the patron saint of England and Georgia in Russia, as well as horse-back riders, soldiers in the cavalry, and the Boy Scouts.

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Two Women who Rocked the Early Church

March 7, 2012

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Altar of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Photo/david_shane Licensed under Creative Commons

Last week I said that none of the most popular superheroes could defeat the devil.  But one woman martyr did crush him in a vision–the day before she and her companions died gloriously for the faith in North Africa in the year 203.

In my opinion, St. Perpetua had as much valor as a Navy Seal and so did St. Felicity, both of whom share a feast day this week. They were among the most well-known and venerated martyrs of the early Church.

Besides their bravery in facing a savage death for professing to be Christians, these women show us their great faith, hope and trust in God. They also teach us something about parenting under extreme stress.

Perpetua was a noblewoman from the  city of Carthage, near the modern city of Tunis in Tunisia. Felicity was a slave. They and three others were arrested for their faith, and for refusing to pay tribute to the Roman gods. Perpetua had an infant son; Felicity was eight months pregnant.

The women were sentenced to be torn apart by beasts as part of the emperor’s birthday celebration. They were baptized before being led away to prison.

It seems ironic that they were arrested for being Christians before they were actually baptized into the faith but it was common at that time for believers to wait for baptism until they were near death. They understood that baptism was for the forgiveness of sins and thus it was held with such value that many waited to receive the sacrament until right before dying.

Perpetua’s father visited her in prison with her son to convince her to abandon her faith. Eventually she was allowed to keep her son in prison with her.

Felicity worried that she wouldn’t be martyred with Perpetua and the others because Roman law forbade executing pregnant women. Two days before she and the others were thrown into the arena, she gave birth and her baby was adopted by a Christian couple.

Perpetua and Felicity’s Christian witness in prison resulted in the conversion of one of the jailers.

Perpetua’s vision of her battle with the devil was one of several she had while in prison. The day before her execution, she dreamed she was brought into the amphitheater but instead of beasts, she saw an Egyptian. Then a man taller than the top of the arena appeared holding a rod used by gladiators and a branch of golden apples. She was to fight the Egyptian and either he would kill her with a sword or she would conquer him and receive the branch.

She told of the gladiator battle in The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, one of the earliest pieces of writing by a Christian woman:

And we came nigh to each other, and began to buffet one another. He tried to trip up my feet, but I with my heels smote upon his face. And I rose up into the air and began so to smite him as though I trod not the earth. But when I saw that there was yet delay, I joined my hands, setting finger against finger of them. And I caugth his head, and he fell upon his face; and  I trod upon his head. … And I went up to the master of gladiators and received  the branch. And he kissed me and said to me:  ‘Daughter, peace be with you.’ And I began to go with glory to the gate called the Gate of Life. And I awoke; and I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil, but I knew that mine was the victory.

When Perpetua and Felicity actually were martyred on March 7, they were first whipped and then thrown into the arena where they were mauled by a wild cow. They exchanged the kiss of peace and were killed by a sword.

Before her martyrdom, St. Perpetua professed her faith:

For this cause came we willingly unto this, that our liberty might not be obscured. For this cause have we devoted our lives.

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November 30, Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr

November 30, 2010

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St. Andrew with X shaped cross at St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi

An Apostle’s Feast Day. November 30 is the feast of St. Andrew.  All three Synoptic gospels as well as Acts list him as one of the original Twelve (Mt 10:2; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13).

Gospel Information on Andrew. Andrew was born and raised in Bethsaida (Jn 1:44), a fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, only a short distance from Capernaum, another town about a mile to the west.  He had a least one brother, Peter, and they were both fisherman (Mt 4:18; Mk 1:16).   At some point they acquired a home in Capernaum where they lived together (Mk 1:29).  Andrew was a Jew, and from the context of Mark’s gospel, it is presumed that he worshiped in the synagogue in Capernaum (see Mk 1:16-31).

Two Versions of Andrew’s Call. When John the Baptist began his prophetic ministry in the desert, Andrew became one of his disciples (Jn 1:35).  On one occasion Jesus walked by and the Baptizer pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and when Andrew heard this he transferred allegiance and became Jesus’ follower (Jn 1:36-37).  According to the Fourth Gospel Andrew received his call to become a disciple not from Jesus but from the Baptist, and was the first person to become a follower, and it is for this reason that the Eastern Church calls Andrew the “Protoclete” or “the first called.”  Andrew, in turn, went to his brother Simon Peter and called him to follow Jesus (Jn 1:41-42).  Matthew and Mark tell Andrew’s call story differently.  They report that Peter and Andrew were fishing, and that as Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, he beckoned, “Come, follow me,” and they left their nets immediately and followed him (Mt 4:18-20; Mk 1:16-18).

Andrew’s Faith.
Andrew came to faith very quickly, almost instantly, due to Jesus’ compelling presence.  After Andrew met Jesus and stayed with him for only a day, he declared to his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1:51).

Additional New Testament Information on Andrew. Jesus had a special core group of disciples who were his closest partners, Peter, James, and John, but there were two occasions when Andrew was a fourth:  when Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law and when Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple (Mk 1:29; 13:3).  Andrew is mentioned in three other instances:  when Jesus fed the five thousand, it was Andrew who identified the boy with the five barley loaves and the two fish (Jn 6:8-9); when some Greeks came to Jerusalem for an audience with Jesus, it was Andrew who approached Jesus on their behalf (Jn 12:20,22); and when the apostles were gathered in the upper room before Pentecost, Andrew was there (Acts 1:13).

Early Church History.
The rest of St. Andrew’s story is provided by historians, not Scripture.  After Pentecost Andrew became a missionary and probably traveled to Bithynia, south of the Black Sea, now northern Turkey; and Scythia, much further east between the Black and Caspian Seas, modern Georgia of the USSR.  There are legends that Andrew went to Poland, northern Europe, and Scotland; and general agreement that he went to Macedonia, northern Greece, and Achaia, southern Greece, where he was martyred in Patras in 60 AD on an X-shaped cross.

St. Andrew’s Intercession. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Russia, Scotland, and Greece, as well as fishermen, fish merchants, sailors, and spinsters or old maids.

St. Andrew’s Symbols. Andrew is represented by an X-shaped cross, the instrument of his crucifixion; a single fish or a fishing net, signs of his profession; a pair of crisscrossed fish which recall both his vocation as a fisher of people and the manner of his death; a carpenter’s square because he helped to build the Church; and a palm branch because he was a martyr.

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ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA, Virgin and Martyr

November 24, 2010

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St. Catherine of Alexandria - Window at St. Bridget in DeGraf

St. Catherine of Alexandria is a saint of great interest locally because she is the patron saint of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  November 25 was her feast day for many years.  She was dropped from the liturgical calendar in 1969, but recently her memorial was reinstated in the revised Roman Missal.  There is little reliable historical data about her life, but her legendary story is inspiring.

Youthful beginnings. St. Catherine lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the fourth century AD.  She was born into an upper class pagan Roman family.  She was blessed with intellectual genius and a fierce hunger for learning, as well as striking beauty, but as attractive as she was, she preferred learning and philosophy to marriage.

Her conversion story. There are two main legends about Catherine’s conversion to Christianity.  According to the first, the Blessed Mother appeared to a hermit in the Egyptian desert.  The hermit went to Catherine and showed her an image of the Madonna and Christ child which led to her immediate conversion at the age of eighteen.  Not only that, she was “mystically married” to Christ, and the Christ child placed a ring on her finger.  According to another version, the Christ child and the Blessed Mother appeared to her directly.

Incredible bravery. Subsequently Catherine preached about Jesus and the gospel throughout Alexandria at a time when the emperor Maxentius was conducting a persecution against Christians.  In a bold and daring move, Catherine approached the emperor, scolded him for his persecution, and voiced strong arguments against the pagan Roman gods.  The emperor could not withstand her wisdom so he assembled fifty leading pagan philosophers to debate with her.  Not only did Catherine win the debate, they all converted to Christianity.  Incensed, the emperor had all fifty burned to death, but he spared Catherine because he lusted for her.

A mystical marriage untainted. Maxentius was enthralled with Catherine’s beauty, and he tried to seduce her, even though he was a married man with a queen.  He went so far as to promise Catherine that he would crown her his new queen.  Catherine flatly denied his advances.  Rejected and mortified, the enraged emperor had Catherine beaten and thrown into prison.

A curious twist. Intrigued by Catherine, both the queen and an army general went secretly to visit Catherine in prison.  Because of her remarkable faith, both the empress, the general, and two hundred prison guards converted.  Maxentius went berserk and had them all executed.

Catherine’s martyrdom. The emperor decided to torture Catherine’s chaste body by stretching it over a large spiked wheel with tall points on the surface and a sharp blade on the side.  Miraculously, before the torture could begin, her shackles were loosened and the wheel shattered, reportedly by angels.  She was finally beheaded.  Then, according to the legend, her body was flown by the angels to Mount Sinai where she was buried.

A strong advocate. St. Catherine of Alexandria is the patron saint of philosophers, librarians, university students, young women, preachers, apologists, lawyers, notaries, and wheelwrights.    She is also revered as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints thought to have special intercessory power.

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