Saint of the Day

St. Alexander


St. Alexander

Feast date: Feb 26

St. Alexander succeeded St. Achillas as bishop of Alexandria in 313.

Alexander was a champion of orthodox Catholic teaching.

The majority of his ministry was dedicated to fighting against the Arian heresy. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, claimed Jesus was not truly God and that there was a time when the Son, the second person of the Trinity, did not exist.

The bishop was gentle with Arius but when Arianism started accumulating a larger following, Alexander finally excommunicated Arius. The sentence of excommunication was confirmed in the year 320.

Alexander’s epistle on the Arian heresy has survived and remains an important part of ecclesiastical literature.

It is assumed that St. Alexander drew up the acts of the first General Council of Nicaea in 325, where Arianism was formally condemned.

He died in Alexandria two years after his return from the council.

St. Alexander was also famous for his charity to the poor and his doctrine on life.

Blessed Maria Adeodata Pisani


Blessed Maria Adeodata Pisani

Feast date: Feb 25

Blessed Maria Adeodata Pisani was born into a noble family in Naples, Italy in 1806. Her father was an alcoholic and was exiled after being involved in a revolt. Maria’s grandmother raised her. When her grandmother died, the 10 year-old was sent to a boarding school until she was 17.

During these years, Maria declined several marriage proposals because she preferred to lead a quiet life of prayer.

When she turned 21, she entered the Benedictine Community in St. Peter’s Monastery and took the name Maria Adeodata. She made her solemn profession two years later.

In the cloister, Maria was a seamstress, sacristan, porter, teacher and novice mistress. Her fellow nuns and many people outside the cloister benefited from her charity.

Maria Adeodata wrote various works, the most well-known of these is a collection of her personal reflections between the years 1835 and 1843 titled “The mystical garden of the soul that loves Jesus and Mary”.

She was an abbess from 1851 to 1853 but had to retire from her duties because she suffered from heart problems.

On Feb. 25, 1855, at the age of 48 and in poor health, she dragged herself to the chapel for Mass, against her nurse’s advice. After receiving Communion, she had to be carried back to bed where she died soon afterward.

She had a simple funeral and was buried in the monastery’s crypt the following day.

Maria was remembered for her sanctity, love of the poor, self-imposed sacrifices, and ecstasies so complete that she was seen levitating.

She was beatified by Blessed John Paul II in 2001.

Blessed Thomas Maria Fusco


Blessed Thomas Maria Fusco

Feast date: Feb 24

Thomas was born to a noble family in 1831 in Pagani, Italy. He was the seventh of eight children.

When he was only six years old, his mother died of cholera. A few years later, his father also died.

His uncle, a primary school teacher, took charge of Thomas’ education.

The canonization of St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1839 stirred aspirations for the priesthood in Thomas’ heart.

He entered the seminary in 1847 and was ordained a priest in 1855.

Immediately Thomas opened a morning school for the formation of boys and organized evening prayers for youth and adults.

During these years, Thomas nurtured a deep devotion to the crucified Christ and to his Blessed Sorrowful Mother because of the deaths of his uncle and younger brother.

In 1862 he opened a school of moral theology in his home to train priests for the ministry of confession. That same year he also founded the priestly Society of the Catholic Apostolate for missions among the faithful.

In 1873, Thomas was deeply moved by the plight of an orphaned street girl. After careful discernment, he founded the Congregation of the “Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood”.

For the remainder of his years, he was completely dedicated to his priestly ministry, preaching spiritual retreats and missions, teaching catechism to youth and organizing prayer for young people and adults at his parish. He worked to build a strong devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus among the people he served.

In 1891, Thomas died of liver disease at the age of 59.

The cause for his beatification was opened in 1955 and the decree of his heroic Christian virtues was published in 2001.

At Thomas’ beatification, Pope St. John Paul II presented him as “an example and a guide to holiness for priests, for the people of God and for his spiritual daughters, the Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood.”

St. Polycarp of Smyrna


St. Polycarp of Smyrna

Feast date: Feb 23

On Feb. 23, the Catholic Church remembers the life and martyrdom of St. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle and evangelist St. John. Polycarp is celebrated on the same date by Eastern Orthodox Christians, who also honor him as a Saint.

Polycarp is known to later generations primarily through the account of his martyrdom, rather than by a formal biography. However, it can be determined from that account that he was born around the year 69 AD. From the testimony he gave to his persecutors – stating he had served Christ for 86 years – it is clear that he was either raised as a Christian, or became one in his youth.

Growing up among the Greek-speaking Christians of the Roman Empire, Polycarp received the teachings and recollections of individuals who had seen and known Jesus during his earthly life. This important connection – between Jesus’ first disciples and apostles and their respective students – served to protect the Catholic Church against the influence of heresy during its earliest days, particularly against early attempts to deny Jesus’ bodily incarnation and full humanity.

Polycarp’s most significant teacher, with whom he studied personally, was St. John – whose contributions to the Bible included not only the clearest indication of Jesus’ eternal divinity, but also the strongest assertions of the human nature he assumed on behalf of mankind. By contrast, certain tendencies had already emerged among the first Christians – to deny the reality of Jesus’ literal suffering, death, and resurrection, regarding them as mere “symbols” of highly abstract ideas. With John’s help, Polycarp may have been the one who compiled, edited, and published the New Testament

Another Catholic teacher of the second century, St. Irenaeus, wrote that Polycarp “was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ; but he was also, by apostles, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna.” In a surviving letter that he wrote to the Philippians, he reminded that Church – which had also received the teaching of St. Paul – not to surrender their faith to the “gnostic” teachers claiming to teach a more intellectually refined gospel.

“For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist,” he wrote –  citing St. John himself – “and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan.”

“Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness,” Polycarp taught – as he went on to explain that both hope and righteousness depended upon “Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross.” With eloquence and clarity, he reminded the Philippian Church that Christ, “for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in him.”

However, Polycarp’s most eloquent testimony to his faith in Jesus came not through his words, but through his martyrdom, described in another early Christian work. The Church of Smyrna, in present-day Turkey, compiled their recollections of their bishop’s death at the hands of public authorities in a letter to another local church.

“We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp” – who, in the words of the Catholics of Smyrna, “put an end to the persecution – having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom.”

Around the year 155, Polycarp became aware that government authorities were on the lookout for him, seeking to stamp out the Catholic Church’s claim of obeying a higher authority than the Emperor. He retreated to a country house and occupied himself with constant prayer, before receiving a vision of his death that prompted him to inform his friends: “I must be burned alive.” He changed locations, but was betrayed by a young man who knew his whereabouts and confessed under torture.

He was captured on a Saturday evening by two public officials, who urged him to submit to the state demands. “What harm is there,” one asked, “in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and in sacrificing to him, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, so as to make sure of safety?”

“I shall not do as you advise me,” he answered. Outraged by his response, the officials had him violently thrown from their chariot and taken to an arena for execution. Entering the stadium, the bishop – along with some of his companions, who survived to tell of it – heard a heavenly voice, saying: “Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!”

Before the crowd, the Roman proconsul demanded again that he worship the emperor.

“Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian,” the bishop said. “And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.”

“You threaten me with fire,” he continued “which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished. But you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.”

“But,” he challenged the proconsul, “what are you waiting for? Bring forth what you will.”

Although the crowds clamored for Polycarp to be devoured by beasts, it was decided he should be burned alive, just as he had prophesied. He prayed aloud to God: “May I be accepted this day before you as an acceptable sacrifice — just as you, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled.”

What happened next struck Polycarp’s companions with amazement; they recorded the sight in the letter that they circulated after Polycarp’s death.

“As the flame blazed forth in great fury,” they wrote, “we to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle.” The fire did not seem to touch the bishop’s body. Rather, as they described, “shaping itself into the form of an arch, it encompassed – as by a circle – the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace.”

“Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour coming from the flames – as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been burning there.”

The executioners perceived that Polycarp’s death was not going as planned. Losing patience, they ordered him to be stabbed to death.

From the resulting wound, “there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished.”

The crowd, as the Christian witnesses recalled, were understandably amazed.

“All the people marveled,” they wrote, “that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect.” Polycarp, they proclaimed, had been among that elect – “having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna.”

St. Polycarp has been venerated as a Saint since his death in 155.

Chair of Saint Peter


Chair of Saint Peter

Feast date: Feb 22

The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles.

Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.

When Jesus asked the Apostles: “Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?”

Simon replied: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

And Jesus said: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church [ekklesian], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven”. (Mt 16:13-20)

In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.

However, St. Peter was not without faults. He was rash and reproached often by Christ. He had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of praying, as Jesus had asked him to do. He also denied knowing Jesus three times after Christ’s arrest.

Peter delivered the first public sermon after the Pentecost and won a large number of converts. He also performed many miracles and defended the freedom of the Apostles to preach the Gospels. He preached in Jerusalem, Judaea, and as far north as Syria.

He was arrested in Jerusalem under Herod Agrippa I, but miraculously escaped execution. He left Jerusalem and eventually went to Rome, where he preached during the last portion of his life. He was crucified there, head downwards, as he had desired to suffer, saying that he did not deserve to die as Christ had died.

The date of St. Peter’s death is not clear. Historians estimate he was executed between the years 64 and 68. His remains now rest beneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

St. Peter Damian


St. Peter Damian

Feast date: Feb 21

On Feb. 21, Catholics honor Saint Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk who strove to purify the Church during the early years of its second millennium.

In his Sept. 9, 2009 general audience on the saint, Pope Benedict XVI described him as “one of the most significant figures of the 11th century … a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform.”

Born during 1007 in the Italian city of Ravenna, Peter belonged to a large family but lost both his father and mother early in life. An older brother took the boy into his household, yet treated him poorly. But another of Peter’s brothers, a priest, took steps to provide for his education; and the priest’s own name, Damian, became his younger brother’s surname.

Peter excelled in school while also taking up forms of asceticism, such as fasting, wearing a hair shirt, and spending long hours in prayer with an emphasis on reciting the Psalms. He offered hospitality to the poor as a means of serving Christ, and eventually resolved to embrace voluntary poverty himself through the Order of Saint Benedict.

The monks he chose to join, in the hermitage of Fonte Avellana, lived out their devotion to the Cross of Christ through a rigorous rule of life. They lived mainly on bread and water, prayed all 150 Psalms daily, and practiced many physical mortifications. Peter embraced this way of life somewhat excessively at first, which led to a bout with insomnia.

Deeply versed in the Bible and the writings of earlier theologians, Peter developed his own theological acumen and became a skilled preacher. The leaders of other monasteries sought his help to build up their monks in holiness, and in 1043 he took up a position of leadership as the prior of Fonte Avellana. Five other hermitages were established under his direction.

Serious corruption plagued the Church during Peter’s lifetime, including the sale of religious offices and immorality among many of the clergy. Through his writings and involvements in controversies of the day, the prior of Fonte Avellana called on members of the hierarchy and religious orders to live out their commitments and strive for holiness.

In 1057, Pope Stephen IX became determined to make Peter Damian a bishop, a goal he accomplished only by demanding the monk’s obedience under threat of excommunication. Consecrated as the Bishop of Ostia in November of that year, he also joined the College of Cardinals and wrote a letter encouraging its members to set an example for the whole Church.

With Pope Stephen’s death in 1058, and the election of his successor Nicholas II, Peter’s involvement in Church controversies grew. He supported Pope Nicholas against a rival claimant to the papacy, and went to Milan as the Pope’s representative when a crisis broke out over canonical and moral issues. There, he was forced to confront rioters who rejected papal authority.

Peter, meanwhile, wished to withdraw from these controversies and return to the contemplative life. But Nicholas’ death in 1061 caused another papal succession crisis, which the cardinal-bishop helped to resolve in favor of Alexander II. That Pope kept the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia occupied with a series of journeys and negotiations for the next six years.

In 1067, Peter Damian was allowed to resign his episcopate and return to the monastery at Fonte Avellana. Two years later, however, Pope Alexander needed his help to prevent the German King Henry IV from divorcing his wife. Peter lived another two years in the monastery before making a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino, the birthplace of the Benedictine order.

In 1072, Peter returned to his own birthplace of Ravenna, to reconcile the local church with the Pope. The monk’s last illness came upon him during his return from this final task, and he died after a week at a Benedictine monastery in Faenza during February of that year.

Never formally canonized, St. Peter Damian was celebrated as a saint after his death in many of the places associated with his life. In 1823, Pope Leo XII named him a Doctor of the Church and extended the observance of his feast day throughout the Western Church.

St. Robert Southwell


St. Robert Southwell

Feast date: Feb 21

Saint Robert Southwell, SJ (c. 1561 – February 21 1595,) an English Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, is one of the 40 martyrs of England & Wales murdered during the English anti-Catholic Reformation.

Robert was born in Norfolk, the youngest of eight children in a well-to-do family with Catholic sympathies in the midts of the anti-Catholic sentiment started by the Anglican reformation.

In 1576, he was sent to France to study with the Jesuits at the English college at Douai. After completing his education, he requested to join the Society of Jesus, but was rejected because he was too young and the Jesuit seminary was temporarily closed because of the growing confrontations between French and Spanish forces.

But in a show of his conviction, in 1578, set off on foot to Rome to make his case for becoming a Jesuit.

After being admitted to the probation house of Sant’ Andrea on 17 October 1578, and after the completion of the novitiate, Southwell began studies in philosophy and theology at the Jesuit College in Rome, and was ordained in 1584.That same year, Queen Elizabeth had passed an edict establishing the death penalty for any British Catholic priest or religious who joined a religious order abroad to remain in England longer than forty days.

Two years later, Southwell requested to be sent back to England as a clandestine Jesuit missionary with Henry Garnet.

Southwell preached and ministered successfully for six years, publishing Catholic catechism and writing spiritual poetry that would make him one of the most important Barroque English poets.

But the Queen’s cheif priest-hunter, Richard Topcliffe, pressured a young Catholic woman he had raped to betray Southwell. Once captured, he was initially jailed in Topcliffe’s personal prison and tortured 13 different times, trying to get him to name Catholic families involved in the clandestine Catholic mission. Fr. Robert did not betray a single name.

Transferred to the infamous Tower of London, Southwell endured cold and solitude for two and a half years, reading the Bible, the works of St. Bernard and praying the Breviary. During that time he also wrote the most important portion of his poetry.

In 1595, Southwell was finally put on trial accused of treason. During the trial, he admitted being a Jesuit to minister to Catholics, but strongly denied ever being involved in “designs or plots against the queen or kingdom.”

After the predictable guilty verdict, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

On 21 February 1595, in Tyburn, the Jesuit was allowed to address the crowd about his mission as a Catholic priest, then pronounced the words of Psalm 30 prayed in Complines: in manus tuas commendabo spiritum meum (Into your hands i commend my spirit) and made the sign of the cross.

After he was hanged and his severed head presented to the crowd, the traditional shout of “traitor” was replaced by utter silence.

Soon after his martyrdom, his body of poetry started to circulate in manuscripts among Catholics, and later in 1595 his “St Peter’s Complaint” and other poems were printed. By 1636, 14 editions had been printed, and other collections of poems, including “Mary Magdalen’s Funeral Tears” and Maeoniae.

Southwell was canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Many critics believe that the poem that expresses the best of his dramatic message to his fellow persecuted Catholics in England is “Life is But Losse,” which he wrote in prison:

By force I live, in will I wish to dye;
In playnte I passe the length of lingring dayes;
Free would my soule from mortall body flye,
And tredd the track of death’s desyred waies:
Life is but losse where death is deemed gaine,
And loathed pleasures breed displeasinge payne.

…..

Come, cruell death, why lingrest thou so longe?
What doth withould thy dynte from fatall stroke?
Nowe prest I am, alas! thou dost me wronge,
To lett me live, more anger to provoke:
Thy right is had when thou hast stopt my breathe,
Why shouldst thoue stay to worke my dooble deathe?

…..

Avaunt, O viper! I thy spite defye:
There is a God that overrules thy force,
Who can thy weapons to His will applie,
And shorten or prolonge our brittle course.
I on His mercy, not thy might, relye;
To Him I live, for Him I hope to die.

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