Saint of the Day

St. Norbert

On June 6 the Catholic Church honors Saint Norbert of Xanten – who started out as a frivolous and worldly cleric, but was changed by God’s grace into a powerful preacher and an important reformer of the Church during the early 12th century. He is the founder of the Norbertine order.Born around the year 1075 in the German town of Xanten, Norbert belonged to a high-ranking family with ties to the imperial court. As a young man he showed a high degree of intelligence and sophistication – which marked him out as a contender for offices within the Church, the state, or both. None of this, however, was any guarantee of a holy life. On the contrary, Norbert’s gifts and advantages would prove to be a source of temptation even after he joined the ranks of the clergy.Norbert was ordained as a subdeacon, and enrolled with a group of clerics in his town, before moving on to an appointment with the powerful Archbishop of Cologne. He went on to serve the German Emperor Henry V, in a position which involved the distribution of aid to the poor. In all of this, however, Norbert displayed no particular piety or personal seriousness, living a rather pleasurable and luxurious life.Change would come from a brush with death, in approximately 1112: while riding on horseback near Xanten, he was caught in a storm and nearly killed by a lightning bolt. The frightened horse threw Norbert off, and he lay unconscious for some time. Sobered by the experience, he left his imperial post and began a period of prayer and discernment in a monastery. At age 35, he heard God calling him to the priesthood.Radically converted to the ideals of the Gospel, Norbert was now set against the worldly attitude he had once embodied. This made him unpopular with local clerics, who responded with insults and condemnation. But Norbert was not turning back. He gave all of his wealth to the poor, reducing himself to a barefoot and begging pilgrim who possessed nothing except the means to celebrate Mass.Pope Gelasius II gave Norbert permission to live as an itinerant preacher, and he was asked to found a religious order so that others might live after his example. He settled in the northern French region of Aisne, along with a small group of disciples who were to live according to the Rule of St. Augustine. On December 25, 1121, they were established as the Canons Regular of Premontre, also known as the Premonstratensians or Norbertines.Their founder also established a women’s branch of the order, before returning to Germany for a successful preaching tour. He founded a lay branch of the Premonstratensians (the Third Order of St. Norbert), and went on to Belgium, where he preached against a sect that denied the power of the sacraments. His order was invited into many Northern European dioceses, and there was talk of making Norbert a bishop.Though he avoided an earlier attempt to make him the Bishop of Wurzburg, Norbert was eventually chosen to become the Archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany. The archdiocese was in serious moral and financial trouble, and the new archbishop worked hard to reform it. His efforts were partly successful, but not universally accepted: Norbert was the target of three failed assassination attempts, made by opponents of his reforms.  When a dispute arose over the papal succession in 1130, Norbert traveled to Rome to support the legitimate Pope Innocent II. Afterward he returned to Germany and became a close adviser to its Emperor Lothar. In a sense, his life seems to have come full-circle: the first hints of his conversion had come on a trip to Rome two decades earlier, when he accompanied a previous emperor. This time, however, Norbert was seeking God’s will, not his own advancement.With his health failing, Norbert was brought back to Magdeburg. He died there on June 6, 1134. Pope Gregory XIII canonized St. Norbert in 1582.

St. Boniface

St. Boniface was very bold in his faith and was well known for being very good at using the local customs and culture of the day to bring people to Christ. He was born in Devonshire, England, in the seventh century. He was educated at a Benedictine monastery and became a monk, and was sent as a missionary to Germany in 719 instead of becoming abbot for his monastery.

There, he destroyed idols and pagan temples, and built churches on the sites. He was eventually made archbishop of Mainz, where he reformed churches and built religious houses on those sites.

He was martyred on June 5, 754 while on mission in Holland, where a troop of pagans attacked and killed him and his 52 companions.

One story about St. Boniface tells about when he met a tribe in Saxony that was worshipping a Norse deity in the form of a huge oak tree. Boniface walked up to the tree, removed his shirt, took an ax, and without a word, chopped it down. Then he stood on the trunk, and asked: “How stands your mighty god? My God is stronger than he.â€�

St. Francis Caracciolo

“Zeal for Thy house has consumed me!�Born in Villa Santa Maria, Italy on October 13, 1563, Francis Caracciolo was given the name Ascanio at his baptism.  His mother was a relative of St. Thomas Aquinas. He lived a virtuous life as a youth and seemed inclined towards a religious vocation. When he was 22 he contracted a form of leprosy which he begged God to cure him of.  He promised to follow what seemed clear to him as his calling to the priesthood immediately upon being cured.He was cured instantly upon making the promise, and left immediately for Naples to study for the priesthood.  On his ordination he joined the confraternity of The White Robes of Justice, who were devoted to helping condemned criminals to die a holy death, reconciled with God.Five years after he went to Naples, a letter was delivered to him which was in fact addressed to another Ascanio Caracciolo, a distant relative.  The letter was an appeal from Father Giovanni Agostino Adorno, of Genoa, to this other Ascanio to join him in founding a religious order. Reading the lettter he realized that the vision of Fr. Adorno was in total compliance with his own ideas for a religious institute and he interpreted this as a sign of God’s plan.He responded to the letter and the two men spent a few weeks together in retreat to draw up the institutions and rule. The congregation was approved by Pope Sixtus V on July 1, 1588.The congregation lives both and active and contemplaive life, perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament being one of the pillars of their life.  They work with the sick, poor, prisoners and as missionaries. In addition to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, they have a fourth which forbids them to seek or accept ecclesiastical honors.Upon making his profession, Caracciolo took the name Francis in honor of the saint of Assissi. He was noted for his ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, often being found in ecstasy, and frequently repeating the words of the Psalm, “Zeal for Thy house has consumed me.� He died of a severe fever on the eve of Corpus Christi in Agnone, on June 4 in 1608, with his oft-repeated words on his lips.  Those same words were found burned into the flesh of his heart when his body was opened after his death.He was canonized by Pope Pius VII on May 24, 1807.

St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs of Uganda

St. Charles and many other martyrs for the faith died between November 15, 1885 – January 27, 1887 in Namugongo, Uganda. St. Charles and his companions were beatified in 1920 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

In 1879 Catholicism began spreading in Uganda when the White Fathers, a congregation of priests founded by Cardinal Lavigerie were peacefully received by King Mutesa of Uganda.

The priests soon began preparing catechumens for baptism and before long a number of the young pages in the king’s court had become Catholics.

However, on the death of Mutesa, his son Mwanga, a corrupt man who ritually engaged in pedophilic practices with the younger pages, took the throne.

When King Mwanga had a visiting Anglican Bishop murdered, his chief page, Joseph Mukasa, a Catholic who went to great length to protect the younger boys from the king’s lust, denounced the king’s actions and was beheaded on November 15, 1885.

The 25 year old Charles Lwanga, a man wholly dedicated to the Christian instruction of the younger boys, became the chief page, and just as forcibly protected them from the kings advances.

On the night of the martyrdom of Joseph Mukasa, realizing that their own lives were in danger, Lwanga and some of the other pages went to the White Fathers to receive baptism. Another 100 catechumens were baptized in the week following Joseph Mukasa’s death.

The following May, King Mwanga learned that one of the boys was learning catechism. He was furious and ordered all the pages to be questioned to separate the Christians from the others.  The Christians, 15 in all, between the ages of 13 and 25, stepped forward. The King asked them if they were willing to keep their faith. They answered in unison, “Until death!�

They were bound together and taken on a two day walk to Namugongo where they were to be burned at the stake. On the way, Matthias Kalemba, one of the eldest boys, exclaimed, “God will rescue me. But you will not see how he does it, because he will take my soul and leave you only my body.�  They executioners cut him to pieces and left him to die alone on the road, which took at least three days.

When they reached the site where they were to be burned, they were kept tied together for seven days while the executioners prepared the wood for the fire.

On June 3, 1886, the Feast of the Ascension, Charles Lwanga was separated from the others and burned at the stake. The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained. Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith. He refused saying, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.�  He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire. Just before the flames reached his heart, he looked up and said in a loud voice, “Katonda! – My God!,� and died.

His companions were all burned together the same day all the while praying and singing hymns until they died.

There were 24 protomartyrs in all. The last of the protomartyrs, a young man named John Mary, was beheaded by King Mwanga on January 27, 1887.

The persecutions spread during the reign of Mwanga, with 100 Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, being tortured and killed.

St. Charles Lwanga is the patron saint of African Catholic Youth Action.

Sts. Marcellinus and Peter

On June 2, the Catholic Church remembers two fourth-century martyrs, Saints Marcellinus and Peter, who were highly venerated after the discovery of their tomb and the conversion of their executioner.

Although the biographical details of the two martyrs are largely unknown, it is known that they lived and died during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. In 302, the ruler changed his tolerant stance and pursued a policy intended to eliminate the Church from the empire.

Diocletian and his subordinate ordered the burning of Catholic churches and their sacred texts, as well as the imprisonment and torture of clergy and laypersons. The goal was to force Christians to submit to the Roman pagan religion, including the worship of the emperor himself as divine.

It was at the mid-point of this persecution, around 303, that a Roman exorcist by the name of Peter was imprisoned for his faith. While in prison, tradition holds that Peter freed Paulina, the daughter of the prison-keeper Artemius, from demonic influence by his prayers.

This demonstration of Christ’s power over demons is said to have brought about the conversion of Paulina, Artemius, his wife, and the entire household, all of whom were baptized by the Roman priest Marcellinus.

After this, both Marcellinus and Peter were called before a judge who was determined to enforce the emperor’s decree against the Church. When Marcellinus testified courageously to his faith in Christ, he was beaten, stripped of his clothes, and deprived of food in a dark cell filled with broken glass shards.

Peter, too, was returned to his confinement. But neither man would deny Christ, and both preferred death over submission to the cult of pagan worship.

It was arranged for the two men to be executed secretly, in order to prevent the faithful from gathering in prayer and veneration at the place of their burial. Their executioner forced them to clear away a tangle of thorns and briars, which the two men did cheerfully, accepting their death with joy.

Both men were beheaded in the forest and buried in the clearing they had made. The location of the saints’ bodies remained unknown for some time, until a devout woman named Lucilla received a revelation informing her where the priest and exorcist lay.

With the assistance of another woman, Firmina, Lucilla recovered the two saints’ bodies and had them re-interred in the Roman Catacombs. Sts. Marcellinus and Peter are among the saints named in the Western Church’s most traditional Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.

Pope St. Damasus I, who was himself a great devotee of the Church’s saints during his life, composed an epitaph to mark the tombs of the two martyrs. The source of his knowledge, he said, was the executioner himself, who had subsequently repented and joined the Catholic Church.

St. Justin Martyr

“We are slain with the sword, but we increase and multiply; the more we are persecuted and destroyed, the more are deaf to our numbers. As a vine, by being pruned and cut close, shoots forth new suckers, and bears a greater abundance of fruit; so is it with us.” – St. Justin MartyrJustin was born around the year 100 in the Palestinian province of Samaria, the son of Greek-speaking parents whose ancestors were sent as colonists to that area of the Roman Empire. Justin’s father followed the Greek pagan religion and raised his son to do the same, but he also provided Justin with an excellent education in literature and history. Justin was an avid lover of truth, and as a young man, became interested in philosophy and searched for truth in the various schools of thought that had spread throughout the empire. But he became frustrated with the professional philosophers’ intellectual conceits and limitations, as well as their apparent indifference to God. After several years of study, Justin had a life-changing encounter with an old man who questioned him about his beliefs and especially about the sufficiency of philosophy as a means of attaining truth. He urged him to study the Jewish prophets and told Justin that these authors had not only spoken by God’s inspiration, but also predicted the coming of Christ and the foundation of his Church. “Above all things, pray that the gates of life may be opened to you,â€� the old man told Justin, “for these are not things to be discerned, unless God and Christ grant to a man the knowledge of them.â€� Justin had always admired Christians from a distance because of the beauty of their moral lives. As he writes in his Apologies: “When I was a disciple of Plato, hearing the accusations made against the Christians and seeing them intrepid in the face of death and of all that men fear, I said to myself that it was impossible that they should be living in evil and in the love of pleasure.â€� The aspiring philosopher eventually decided to be baptized around the age of 30.After his conversion, Justin continued to wear the type of cloak that Greek culture associated with the philosophers. Inspired by the dedicated example of other Catholics whom he had seen put to death for their faith, he embraced a simple and austere lifestyle even after moving to Rome. Justin was most likely ordained a deacon, since he preached, did not marry, and gave religious instruction in his home. He is best known as the author of early apologetic works which argued for the Catholic faith against the claims of Jews, pagans, and non-Christian philosophers. Several of these works were written to Roman officials, for the purpose of refuting lies that had been told about the Church. Justin sought to convince the rulers of the Roman Empire that they had nothing to gain, and much to lose, by persecuting the Christians. His two most famous apologetical treatises were “Apologies” and “Dialogue with Tryphon.”In order to fulfill this task, Justin gave explicit written descriptions of the early Church’s beliefs and its mode of worship. In modern times, scholars have noted that Justin’s descriptions correspond to the traditions of the Catholic Church on every essential point. Justin describes the weekly Sunday liturgy as a sacrifice, and speaks of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Christ. He further states that only baptized persons who believe the Church’s teachings, and are free of serious sin, may receive it. Justin also explains in his writings that the Church regards celibacy as a sacred calling, condemns the common practice of killing infants, and looks down on the accumulation of excessive wealth and property.His first defense of the faith, written to Emperor Antonius Pius around 150, convinced the emperor to regard the Church with tolerance. In 167, however, persecution began again under Emperor Marcus Aurelius. During that year Justin wrote to the emperor, who was himself a philosopher and the author of the well-known “Meditations.â€� He tried to demonstrate the injustice of the persecutions, and the superiority of the Catholic faith over Greek philosophy. Justin emphasized the strength of his convictions by stating that he expected to be put to death for expressing themHe was, indeed, seized along with a group of other believers, and brought before Rusticus, prefect of Rome. A surviving eyewitness account shows how Justin the philosopher became known as “St. Justin Martyr.â€� The prefect made it clear how Justin might save his life: “Obey the gods, and comply with the edicts of the emperors.â€� Justin responded that “no one can be justly blamed or condemned for obeying the commands of our Savior Jesus Christ.â€� Rusticus briefly questioned Justin and his companions regarding their beliefs about Christ and their manner of worshiping God. Then he laid down the law.“Hear me,â€� he said, “you who are noted for your eloquence, who think that you make a profession of the right philosophy. If I cause you to be scourged from head to foot, do you think you shall go to heaven?â€�“If I suffer what you mention,â€� Justin replied, “I hope to receive the reward which those have already received, who have obeyed the precepts of Jesus Christ.â€� “There is nothing which we more earnestly desire, than to endure torments for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,â€� he explained. “We are Christians, and will never sacrifice to idols.â€� Justin was scourged and beheaded along with six companions who joined him in his confession of faith. St. Justin Martyr has been regarded as a saint since the earliest centuries of the Church. Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians also celebrate his feast day on June 1. 

Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary

Assuming that the Annunciation and the Incarnation took place around the time of the vernal equinox, Mary left Nazareth at the end of March and went over the mountains to Hebron, south of Jerusalem, to wait upon her cousin Elizabeth. Because Mary’s presence, and even more the presence of the Divine Child in her womb, according to the will of God, was to be the source of very great graces to the Blessed John, Christ’s Forerunner. (Lk1:39-57). Feeling the presence of his Divine Saviour, John, upon the arrival of Mary, leaped for joy in the womb of his mother; at that moment he was cleansed from original sin and filled with the grace of God. Our Lady now, for the first time, exercised the office which belonged to the Mother of God made man: that He might, by her mediation, sanctify and glorify us. St. Joseph probably accompanied Mary, returned to Nazareth, and when, after three months, he came again to Hebron to take his wife home, the apparition of the angel, mentioned in Mt 1:19-25, may have taken place to end the tormenting doubts of Joseph regarding Mary’s maternity.The earliest evidence of the existence of the feast is its adoption by the Franciscan Chapter in 1263, upon the advice of St. Bonaventure. The list of feasts in the “Statuta Synodalia eccl. Cenomanensis”, according to which this feast was kept July 2 at Le Mans in 1247, may not be genuine. With the Franciscan Breviary this feast spread to many churches, but was celebrated at various dates-at Prague and Ratisbon, April 28, in Paris June 27, and at Reims and Geneva, on July 8. It was extended to the entire Church by Urban VI on April 6, 1389 (Decree published by Boniface IX, 9 Nov., 1389), with the hope that Christ and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the Great Schism which rent the seamless garment of Christ. The feast, with a vigil and an octave, was assigned to July 2, the day after the octave of St. John, about the time when Mary returned to Nazareth. The Office was drawn up by an Englishman, Adam Cardinal Easton, Benedictine monk and Bishop of Lincoln. Dreves has published this rhythmical office with nine other offices for the same feast, found in the Breviaries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Since, during the Schism, many bishops of the opposing obedience would not adopt the new feast, it was confirmed by the Council of Basle, in 1441. Pius V abolished the rhythmical office, the vigil, and the octave. The present office was compiled by order of Clement VIII by the Minorite Ruiz. Pius IX, on May 13, 1850, raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class. Many religious orders — the Carmelites, Dominicans, Cistercians, Mercedarians, Servites, and others — as well as Siena, Pisa, Loreto, Vercelli, Cologne, and other dioceses have retained the octave. In Bohemia the feast is kept on the first Sunday of July as a double of the first class with an octave.

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