Saints Perpetua and Felicity were martyrs who died for the faith around the year 203.
St. Perpetua was a young, well-educated, noblewoman and mother living in the city of Carthage in North Africa. Her mother was a Christian and her father was a pagan. In terms of her faith, Perpetua followed the example of her mother. Despite the pleas of her father to deny her faith, Perpetua did the very opposite, and fearlessly proclaimed it. At the age of 22, she was imprisoned for her faith. While in prison she continued to care for her infant child and put up with the tortures designed to make her renounce her faith. Perpetua remained steadfast until the end. St. Perpetua was sacrificed at the games as a public spectacle for not renouncing her faith.
St. Felicity was a pregnant slave girl who was imprisoned with St. Perpetua. Little is known about the life of St. Felicity because, unlike Perpetua, she did not keep a diary of her life. After imprisonment and torture, Felicity was also condemned to die at the games. Only a few days before her execution, Felicity gave birth to a daughter, who was secretly taken away to be cared for by some of the Faithful.
The feast of these Saints is March 7.
Blessed Luke Belludi’s Story
In 1220, Saint Anthony was preaching conversion to the inhabitants of Padua when a young nobleman, Luke Belludi, came up to him and humbly asked to receive the habit of the followers of Saint Francis. Anthony liked the talented, well-educated Luke and personally recommended him to Francis, who then received him into the Franciscan Order.
Luke, then only 20, was to be Anthony’s companion in his travels and in his preaching, tending to him in his last days and taking Anthony’s place upon his death. He was appointed guardian of the Friars Minor in the city of Padua. In 1239, the city fell into the hands of its enemies. Nobles were put to death, the mayor and council were banished, the great university of Padua gradually closed and the church dedicated to Saint Anthony was left unfinished. Luke himself was expelled from the city but secretly returned.
At night he and the new guardian would visit the tomb of Saint Anthony in the unfinished shrine to pray for his help. One night a voice came from the tomb assuring them that the city would soon be delivered from its evil tyrant.
After the fulfillment of the prophetic message, Luke was elected provincial minister and furthered the completion of the great basilica in honor of Anthony, his teacher. He founded many convents of the order and had, as Anthony, the gift of miracles. Upon his death he was laid to rest in the basilica that he had helped finish and has had a continual veneration up to the present time.
The epistles refer several times to a man named Luke as Paul’s trusted companion on his missionary journeys. Perhaps every great preacher needs a Luke; Anthony surely did. Luke Belludi not only accompanied Anthony on his travels, he also cared for the great saint in his final illness and carried on Anthony’s mission after the saint’s death. Yes, every preacher needs a Luke, someone to offer support and reassurance—including those who minister to us. We don’t even have to change our names!
Born 69 AD Smyrna, a Greek city (now in Turkey) Polycarp is one of the Fathers of the early Church, and his letter to the Philippians is one of the early pieces of Christian writing in existence today. A disciple of the apostle John, he was a leader of the second generation of Christians, the first Christians who were not eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Our Lord. Extremely influential in the catechesis and initiation of new Christians, he was named bishop of Smyrna, located in modern-day Turkey. Polycarp was martyred for his faith on 23 February 155 in Smyrna at the age of 86. He is a patron of those suffering from earaches.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
To let love in, we must be prepared to get our hearts broken. When we choose to love, we have signed up for the whole package; we have chosen the cross. We must carry that cross with every breath we take, knowing fully that the Lord is not just by our side, but also bearing the weight on our behalf. The Lord is never far away from those who need him the most. When people we love die and we are devastated, the Lord will sit by our side and cry with us. When we lose everything we have worked for, the Lord will provide exactly what we need. When sickness steals time from us, and we feel hopeless and lonely, the Lord will be our companion and give us strength. The Lord is drawn to us when our hearts are broken because we are closest to his heart.
Chair of Saint Peter
Early Roman Christians celebrated on this day a feast in honour of their departed loved ones, including their predecessors in the faith, Peter and Paul. In the 4th century, when the feast of these two saints was moved to June 29th, the emphasis of this day shifted to celebrating Peter and his successors as bishops of Rome, and expressing gratitude for their service. “The ‘cathedra’ is literally the seat of the bishop,” Pope Benedict XVI said on this day in 2006, “It is the symbol of his authority and, particularly, of his ‘Magisterium,’ as successor to the Apostles. To celebrate the ‘Chair’ of Peter means, giving it a strong spiritual significance, and recognizing therein a privileged sign of the love of God.”
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church… Matthew 16:18
One late Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to look out a window and see a stranger dropping off my teen son with his bike, a towel wrapped around his arm. Riding with friends, he’d had a fall, and the brother of one of the friends came and got him. He stood in the bathroom and gingerly unwrapped the towel. I had peroxide and bandages ready, but I took one quick look at the gaping wound on his elbow and said, “This is too much for me. We’re going to the ER.” And I was right. The wound ended up being rather complex, and closing it required stitches. An orthopedist on call made sure no grit had gotten to the bone or tendon level. It was, indeed, too much for me. So it is with faith and all of its mysteries. I am graced to be created in God’s image with the freedom to be in communion with the Lord. But I can’t answer all the questions. I can’t fix all the wounds. I’m just a small part of this Church built on the rock—and I need it. St. Peter, pray for us.
Saint Peter Damian’s Story
Maybe because he was orphaned and had been treated shabbily by one of his brothers, Peter Damian was very good to the poor. It was the ordinary thing for him to have a poor person or two with him at table and he liked to minister personally to their needs.
Peter escaped poverty and the neglect of his own brother when his other brother, who was archpriest of Ravenna, took him under his wing. His brother sent him to good schools and Peter became a professor.
Already in those days, Peter was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, fasted rigorously and spent many hours in prayer. Soon, he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines of the reform of Saint Romuald at Fonte Avellana. They lived two monks to a hermitage. Peter was so eager to pray and slept so little that he soon suffered from severe insomnia. He found he had to use some prudence in taking care of himself. When he was not praying, he studied the Bible.
The abbot commanded that when he died Peter should succeed him. Abbot Peter founded five other hermitages. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a peacemaker or troubleshooter, between two abbeys in dispute or a cleric or government official in some disagreement with Rome.
Finally, Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to wipe out simony—the buying of church offices–and encouraged his priests to observe celibacy and urged even the diocesan clergy to live together and maintain scheduled prayer and religious observance. He wished to restore primitive discipline among religious and priests, warning against needless travel, violations of poverty, and too comfortable living. He even wrote to the bishop of Besancon complaining that the canons there sat down when they were singing the psalms in the Divine Office.
He wrote many letters. Some 170 are extant. We also have 53 of his sermons and seven lives, or biographies, that he wrote. He preferred examples and stories rather than theory in his writings. The liturgical offices he wrote are evidence of his talent as a stylist in Latin.
He asked often to be allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and finally Pope Alexander II consented. Peter was happy to become once again just a monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal legate. When returning from such an assignment in Ravenna, he was overcome by a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072.
In 1828, he was declared a Doctor of the Church.
Peter was a reformer and if he were alive today would no doubt encourage the renewal started by Vatican II. He would also applaud the greater emphasis on prayer that is shown by the growing number of priests, religious, and laypersons who gather regularly for prayer, as well as the special houses of prayer recently established by many religious communities.
Saints Francisco and Jacinta
Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three Portuguese shepherd children from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fátima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe Portugal was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after. At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under Communism. Up to 90,000 people gathered for Mary’s final apparition on October 13, 1917. Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fátima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon in 1920, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world, and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fátima basilica in 1951. Their cousin Lúcia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000; she died five years later. Pope Francis canonized the younger children on his visit to Fátima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first apparition – May 13, 2017. The shrine of Our Lady
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Luke 5: 30
This question by the Pharisees reflects the social situation of India. Over the years a million times the same question might have come up in India in different forms to different people. Excluding people in the name of something or the other is the bane of the society in this country though with the advent of Christianity a new trend of inclusion also set in. A man like Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara (Feast day February 18) through his visionary efforts tried to open Catholic schools to Dalit children in the southern Indian state of Kerala at a time when these children were not even allowed to educate themselves because knowledge was presumed to be the preserve of the highest caste people. Jesus too lived in a society which proudly held itself as the preserve of a particular people who excluded sinners and tax collectors from its ambit besides having the trump card chosen people. By calling Levi to his discipleship and by eating with him and his group of people the carpenter’s son wanted to send out a strong message that in God’s vision there was no place for exclusion.
Saint Conrad of Piacenza
Born circa 1290 to a noble family in northern Italy, Conrad as a young man married Euphrosyne, daughter of a nobleman. One day while hunting he ordered attendants to set fire to some bush in order to flush out the game. The fire spread to nearby fields and to a large forest. Conrad fled. An innocent peasant was imprisoned, tortured to confess, and condemned to death. Conrad confessed his guilt, saved the man’s life, and paid for the damaged property. Soon after this event, Conrad and his wife agreed to separate: she to a Poor Clare monastery and he to a group of hermits following the Third Order Rule. Since his many visitors destroyed his solitude, Conrad went to a remote spot in Sicily where he lived 36 years as a hermit, praying for himself and the world. Conrad died kneeling before a crucifix on 19 February 1351 and was canonized in 1625.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
Will you call this a fast…? Isaiah 58:5
God’s stinging rebuke of Israel’s false piety redefines the very notion of fasting. “On your fast day, you carry out your own pursuits” (verse 3). Penance itself is repellent: “Is this the manner of fasting” I would choose? (verse 5). Afflicting oneself, bowing your head, sackcloth and ashes? No! For our God, fasting means a feast of freedom for the oppressed, “releasing those bound unjustly” (verse 6). Maybe that is why the liturgy calls Lent “this joyful season.” A big parish fish-fry may seem hardly penitential, but the festivity of it all—welcoming neighbors near and far, any faith, any style, any smile—must be dear to the heart of God, who promised Israel, once they released every unjust or oppressive yoke: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn” (verse 8).
Blessed John of Fiesole
The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works.
He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.
He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point, Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.
The work of artists adds a wonderful dimension to life. Without art our lives would be much depleted. Let us pray for artists today, especially those who can lift our hearts and minds to God.
Saint Gilbert of Sempringham
Born 1085 in Sempringham, England, into a wealthy family, Gilbert was sent to France for his higher education. Following his ordination to the priesthood he served as parish priest at Sempringham. Among the congregation were seven young women who had expressed to him their desire to live in religious life. In response, Gilbert had a house built for them adjacent to the Church. There they lived an austere life, but one which attracted ever more numbers; eventually lay sisters and lay brothers were added to work on the land. The religious order formed eventually became known as the Gilbertines, though Gilbert had hoped the Cistercians or some other existing order would take on the responsibility of establishing a rule of life for the new order. The Gilbertines, the only religious order of English origin founded during the middle Ages, continued to thrive. But the order came to an end when King Henry VIII suppressed all Catholic monasteries. Over the years a special custom grew up in the houses of the order called “the plate of the Lord Jesus.” The best portions of the dinner were put on a special plate and shared with the poor, reflecting Gilbert’s lifelong concern for less fortunate people. Throughout his life, Gilbert lived a simple life, consumed little food, and spent a good portion of many nights in prayer. Despite the rigors of such a life he died on 4 February 1189 in Sempringham aged 100. In 1202 Pope Innocent III canonized him.
REFLECTION FOR THE DAY
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters…Psalm 29:3
I have long lived near the ocean. Saltwater, crashing waves and changing tides have always brought renewal to my body and soul. Years ago, I trained to be a lifeguard. I understand recklessness and riptides versus respect for the sea’s power. Some of my most meaningful talks with God have been at the beach, where my heart is at home. God has brought poignant lessons of salvation through water. In the opening lines of Genesis, the Spirit of God that brought creation into being moves over the waters. Later in Genesis 6–7 we have Noah’s ark saving God’s chosen family. And who can ever forget how the Lord saved Israel via their exodus through the sea? The psalmist today seemingly harkens back to all of it. The most saving water experience we will likely ever encounter is our own baptism. The same “voice” of the Lord spoke then. And is speaking to us today.
Saint Claude de la Colombière’s Story
This is a special day for the Jesuits, who claim today’s saint as one of their own. It’s also a special day for people who have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus—a devotion Claude de la Colombière promoted, along with his friend and spiritual companion, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. The emphasis on God’s love for all was an antidote to the rigorous moralism of the Jansenists, who were popular at the time.
Claude showed remarkable preaching skills long before his ordination in 1675. Two months later, he was made superior of a small Jesuit residence in Burgundy. It was there he first encountered Margaret Mary Alacoque. For many years after he served as her confessor.
He was next sent to England to serve as confessor to the Duchess of York. He preached by both words and by the example of his holy life, converting a number of Protestants. Tensions arose against Catholics and Claude, rumored to be part of a plot against the king, was imprisoned. He was ultimately banished, but by then his health had been ruined.
He died in 1682. Pope John Paul II canonized Claude de la Colombière in 1992.
As a fellow Jesuit and as a promoter of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Claude must be very special to Pope Francis who has so beautifully emphasized the mercy of Jesus. The emphasis on God’s love and mercy are characteristic of both men.