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January 1
Mary, Mother of God
Today we begin a new year. It’s one week since Christmas Day. In the nativity scene we have at home or at our parish, we gaze at Baby Jesus in the manger just as the shepherds did so long ago. We see Mary, his mother, and Joseph, Jesus’ foster-father. Mary was the daughter of Joachim and Anne. She loved God and her Jewish religion very much. Her neighbors probably thought Mary was very ordinary. It would be God’s work in her that would make her so special, so full of grace. God chose Mary from all women to be the mother of his Son. The Lord sent the Archangel Gabriel to Mary’s town of Nazareth. Gabriel asked Mary to become the mother of God’s Son. Mary wanted to please God, and so she answered “yes.” With her “yes,” Mary became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. She became Jesus’ mother. Because she is the mother of Jesus, God’s Son, Mary really is the Mother of God! What a blessing it was for Mary and her husband, Joseph, to be the ones to raise Jesus! They spent many happy years with him in Nazareth. When Jesus was about thirty years old, he began his preaching and healing ministry. This is usually called his public life. (It seems that Joseph had died sometime before.) Mary often went with her friends to be near her Son and listen to his words. One day, she attended a marriage celebration in a town called Cana. Jesus and his disciples came too. When the wine ran out, Mary asked Jesus to do something. She wanted him to save the couple from being embarrassed in front of their guests. That’s when Jesus worked the miracle of turning plain water into delicious wine! Mary loved Jesus and believed in him. She was there when he was nailed to the cross. She received his body into her arms after he had died and was taken down from the cross. After Jesus’ resurrection, Mary waited with Jesus’ apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The apostles loved her. They knew they needed more courage to be real followers of Jesus. Mary prayed for them and encouraged them. She taught them how to be disciples of her Son. Mary’s feast days are special events that we celebrate throughout the year. Today we honor Mary as God’s Mother by going to Mass. We can be very happy because Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother, too.
Mary’s life was closely connected with the life of Jesus. To remember the events of Mary’s life is to remember the life of Jesus too. Let’s ask Mary to help us love her Son Jesus more each day of this new year.
January 2
St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen
Basil and Gregory were born around the year 329 in Asia Minor. Today we call this area Turkey. Basil’s grandmother, father, mother, two brothers and a sister are all saints. Gregory’s parents are St. Nonna and St. Gregory the Elder. Basil and Gregory met and became great friends at school in Athens, Greece. Basil became a well-known teacher. But he wasn’t satisfied. He felt that God was calling him to live as a monk. Basil visited monasteries in Syria, Egypt and Palestine, then moved to the wilderness and started his first monastery. The rule he gave his monks was very wise. Monasteries in the East have followed it down to our own times. Both Basil and Gregory became priests and then bishops. They often preached about the Holy Trinity, because the errors of Arianism were confusing many people. Arianism was a teaching that denied that Jesus is God. While he was bishop of Constantinople, Gregory converted many people with his wonderful preaching. But it nearly cost him his life! Once, a young man planned to murder him. He repented at the last moment and begged Gregory’s forgiveness. Gregory did forgive him and won him over with his gentle goodness. Forty-four of Gregory’s speeches, 243 letters and many poems were published. His writings are still important today. Many people have based their writings on his. Gregory’s good friend Basil had a very kind and generous heart. He always found time to help the poor. He even invited poor people to help those who were worse off. ”Give your last loaf of bread to the beggar at your door,” he urged, “and trust in God’s goodness.” Gregory sold his inheritance to help the poor. He also built a hospital where he visited the sick. Basil died in 379 at the age of fifty. Gregory died in 389 at the age of sixty. He is buried in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Our education, time and talents are all gifts that God has given us. If we want to be like St. Gregory, we can use these gifts to help the people around us become closer to God.
January 3
Most Holy Name of Jesus
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10). The name “Jesus” means “God saves” in Hebrew. This name was given to God the Son by the angel Gabriel at the annunciation. The name “Jesus” tells us who our Lord is and what he came on earth to do. Jesus came to save us, his people, from our sins. St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, declared, ”There is no other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the fifteenth century, St. Bernardine of Siena promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He preached about the power of Jesus’ name and was responsible for the addition of the name Jesus to the Hail Mary: ”Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Through the centuries, the Church has taught us to use the name of Jesus with reverence and love. In the liturgy, we end every prayer with the words, “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is even a short prayer called The Jesus Prayer, which is very easy to memorize and repeat. It goes like this: ”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. “ Many great followers of Jesus, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died pronouncing his name as a prayer.
We should always use the holy name of Jesus with respect. It’s a very bad habit to use the Lord’s name in the wrong way, and we should never do this. When we hear other people using the name of Jesus disrespectfully, we can make up for it by praying silently, “Blessed be the name of Jesus.”
January 12
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys
Marguerite was born in Troyes, France, on April 17, 1620. She was the sixth of twelve children. Her parents were hardworking, religious people. When Marguerite was nineteen, her mother died. Marguerite took care of her younger brothers and sisters. Her father died when she was twenty-seven. The family was now raised, and Marguerite prayed to know what to do with her life. The governor of Montreal, Canada, was visiting France at that time, trying to find teachers for the New World. He invited Marguerite to come to Montreal to teach school and religion classes. She accepted. Marguerite gave the inheritance her parents had left her to other members of the family. They couldn‘t believe that she would really leave their civilized country to go to live in the wilderness an ocean away. But on June 20, 1653, she did just that. She sailed from France and arrived in Canada in mid-November. Marguerite began the construction of a chapel in honor of Our Lady of Good Help in 1657.She opened her first school in 1658.Soon Marguerite realized that she needed more teachers. She sailed to France in 1659 and returned to Canada with four companions. In 1670, she went to France again. This time she brought six more teachers back to Canada with her. These brave women became the first sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. Mother Marguerite and her sisters helped people in the colony survive when food was scarce. They opened a vocational school and taught young people how to run a home and farm. Mother Marguerite’s congregation was growing. By 1681 there were eighteen sisters. Seven of them were Canadian. They opened more missions, including a Native American mission. Mother Marguerite herself received the first two Native American women into the congregation. In 1693, Mother Marguerite asked Sr. Marie Barbier, the first Canadian to join the order, to take over as the community’s superior. The Church approved Marguerite’s religious rule in 1698. Marguerite spent her last few years praying and writing the story of her life. On the last day of 1699, a young sister lay dying. Mother Marguerite asked the Lord to take her own life in exchange. By the morning of January I, 1700, the sister was completely well, and Mother Marguerite had a very high fever. She suffered for twelve days and died on January 12, 1700. Pope John Paul II proclaimed Marguerite Bourgeoys a saint on April 2, 1982.
When we feel we don’t have enough courage to do what God asks of us, we can ask St. Marguerite to make us brave and generous like her. We can ask her to help us to be more concerned about helping others than about our personal comfort.
January 13
St. Hilary of Poitiers
In the early centuries of Christianity, there were still many people who did not believe in God as we do. They believed that there were many gods, some more powerful than others. In the year 315, Hilary was born into just such a family in Poitiers, a town in France. His family was rich and well known. Hilary received a good education. He married and raised a family. Through his studies, Hilary learned that a person should practice patience, kindness, justice and as many good habits as possible. These good acts would be rewarded in the life after death. Hilary’s studies also convinced him that there could only be one God who is eternal, all-powerful and good. He read the Bible for the first time. When he came to the story of Moses and the burning bush, Hilary was very impressed by the name God gave himself: I AM WHO AM. Hilary read the writings of the prophets, too. Then he read the whole New Testament. By the time he finished, Hilary was completely converted to Christianity, and he asked to be baptized. Hilary lived the faith so well that he was appointed a bishop. This did not make his life easy because the emperor was interfering in Church matters. When Hilary opposed him, the emperor exiled him. That was when Hilary’s great virtues of patience and courage stood out. He accepted exile calmly and used the time to write books explaining the Catholic faith. Since he was becoming famous, Hilary’s enemies asked the emperor to send him back to his home in France. They hoped that people would pay less attention to him there. So Hilary was sent back to Poitiers in 360.He continued writing and teaching the people about the faith. Hilary died eight years later, at the age of fifty-two. His books have influenced the Church right to our own day. That is why he is called a Doctor of the Church.
Faith is a wonderful gift from God. Because St. Hilary was honest in seeking the truth, God blessed him with the gift of faith. We have received the gift of faith too. Let’s try to make our faith stronger by praying every day and by always being eager to learn more about God.
January 14
St. Macrina the Elder
On January 2, we celebrated the feast of St. Basil the Great, who was a grandchild of today’s saint, St. Macrina. Basil, who was born around 329, came from a family of saints. Macrina, his father’s mother, was one of his favorites. She seems to have raised Basil. As an adult, Basil praised his grandmother for all the good she had done for him. He especially thanked her for having taught him to love the Christian faith from the time he was very small. Macrina and her husband learned the high price of being true to their Christian beliefs. During one of the Roman persecutions, they were forced into hiding. They found refuge in the forest near their home. Somehow the couple managed to escape their persecutors. They were always hungry and afraid, but they would not give up their faith. Instead, they patiently waited and prayed for the terrible persecution to end. It lasted for seven long years. During that time Macrina and her husband hunted for food. They managed to survive by eating wild vegetation. St. Gregory Nazianzen, who shares St. Basil’s feast day on January 2, is the one who wrote down these few details about St. Basil’s grandparents. During another persecution, Macrina and her husband had all their property and belongings taken from them. They were left with nothing but their faith and trust in God’s care for them. St. Macrina lived longer than her husband, but the exact year of each of their deaths is not known. It is believed that Macrina died around 340. Her grandchild, St. Basil, died in 379.
St. Macrina was a loving grandmother. She showed Basil and the rest of her family the beauty of Christianity by really living all that she believed in. We can ask St. Macrina to help us to be strong Christians too.
January 15
St. Paul the Hermit
Paul was born into a Christian family in the year 229. They lived in Thebes, Egypt. Paul’s parents showed him by their own lives how to love God and worship him with one’s whole heart. Paul was very sad to lose both his parents when he was just fifteen years old. A few years later, in 250, Emperor Decius started a cruel persecution of the Christians. Paul hid in his friend’s home, but he still wasn’t safe. His brother-in-law was after his money and property. Paul realized that this greedy relative could easily betray him to the authorities, so he ran away to the desert. Paul found a cave near a palm tree and a spring of fresh water and he settled there. He sewed palm branches together for clothes, and he lived on fruit and water. Paul had intended to stay in the desert only until the persecution was over. But by the time it ended, he had fallen in love with his life of prayer. He felt so close to God. How could he give it all up? He decided to remain in the desert and never return to his wealthy city life. He would spend his life praying for the needs of all people and offering God penances to make up for sin. There was another holy hermit living in the desert at that same time. His name was Anthony. Anthony thought he was the only hermit. But God showed Paul to him in a dream and told Anthony to go visit him. Paul was so happy to see Anthony because he knew he was going to die in a few days. Anthony was sad because he didn’t want to lose his new friend so soon. But, as Paul predicted, he died on January 15, 342, at the age of 113. Anthony buried him in a cloak that had belonged to St. Athanasius. Then Anthony took home the garment of palm leaves that Paul had been wearing. He never forgot his wonderful friend.
We should feel a close connection with those who are in heaven. We can treasure a keepsake, or even a beautiful memory, of someone we love who has died, just as St. Anthony treasured the garment of St. Paul. This way we feel them close to us until we meet them again in heaven.
January 16
St. Berard and Companions
Five Franciscan friars accepted from St. Francis of Assisi an assignment to preach the Gospel in Morocco. Friars Berard, Peter, Adjutus, Accursio and Odo traveled by ship in 1219. Morocco is in the northwest corner of Africa, and the journey was long and dangerous. The group first arrived at Seville, Spain. They started preaching immediately, in streets and in public squares. People treated them as if they were crazy and had them arrested. To save themselves from being sent back home, the friars explained that they were on their way to see the sultan in Morocco. So the governor of Seville sent them to Morocco. The sultan received the friars and gave them freedom to preach in the city. But some of the people didn’t like this. They complained to the authorities. The sultan tried to save the friars by sending them to live in Marrakech, on the west coast of Morocco. A Christian prince and friend of the sultan, Dom Pedro Fernandez, took them into his home. But the friars knew that their mission was to preach the Catholic faith. They returned to the city as often as they could. This angered some people who didn’t want to hear the friars’ message. These complaints annoyed the sultan so much that one day when he saw the friars preaching, he ordered them to stop or leave the country. Since they didn’t feel it was right for them to do either one, they were beheaded right then and there. It was January 16, 1220. Dom Pedro went to claim the bodies of the martyrs. Eventually he brought their relics to Holy Cross Church in Coimbra, Portugal. The friars’ mission to Morocco had been brief and an apparent failure. But the results were surprising. The story of these heroes fired the first Franciscans with the desire to be missionaries and martyrs too. It was the particular witness of Berard and his companions that inspired a young man to dedicate his life to God as a Franciscan priest. We know him as St. Anthony of Padua, whose feast day is June 13.
As long as we try our best, we don’t have to worry about the success or failure of what we do. St. Berard and his companions seemed to fail in their preaching mission, but their love for Jesus inspired other people. God can always use our effort and dedication to help people live better lives
January 17
St. Anthony of Egypt
St. Anthony was born in 251 in a small village in Egypt. When he was twenty years old, his parents died. They left him a large estate and placed him in charge of the care of his younger sister. Anthony felt overwhelmed and turned to God in prayer. Gradually he became more and more aware of the power of God in his life. About six months later, he heard this quotation of Jesus from the Gospel: “Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). He took the words as a personal message in answer to his prayer for guidance. Anthony sold most of his possessions, keeping only enough to support his sister and himself. Then he gave the rest of the money to people who needed it. Anthony’s sister joined a group of women living a life of prayer and contemplation. Anthony decided to become a hermit. He begged an elderly hermit to teach him about the spiritual life. Anthony also visited other hermits so that he could learn each one’s most outstanding virtue. Then he began his own life of prayer and penance alone with God. When he was fifty-five, Anthony built a monastery where monks could worship and serve God together. Many people heard of his holiness and came to him for advice. Anthony would tell them how they could become closer to God. Once he said, “The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices and when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross.” St. Anthony visited Paul the hermit (whose feast is celebrated on January 15). He learned a lot from the example of Paul’s holy life. Anthony died after a long, prayerful life. He was 105 years old. St. Athanasius wrote a well-known biography of St. Anthony of Egypt. (St. Athanasius’s feast day is May 2.)
God was first in St. Anthony’s life. Sometimes we can think we need everything we see advertised on TV to make us happy. But no amount of money or things can make us really happy. Only loving and serving God can.
January 18
Blessed Christina Ciccarelli
Blessed Christina lived in the sixteenth century. She was born in Abruzzi, Italy. Her baptismal name was Matthia. As she grew up, Matthia felt God calling her to a life of prayer and penance. She chose to become a cloistered nun. Matthia entered the convent of St. Augustine in Aquila. She was called Sister Christina. Sister Christina’s life as a nun was hidden and silent. But the people of Aquila soon realized that she and the other nuns were bringing many blessings to them through their prayer and loving dedication. Even though Sister Christina never left her convent, she was very aware of the needs of the poor people of her area. She and the nuns provided whatever they could for them. Sister Christina also paid attention to the sufferings of others. She prayed and offered sacrifices for all those who suffered. Jesus sometimes gave Sister Christina the ability to know the future. The Lord even used her to work miracles for the good of others. When she died on January 18, 1543, a large crowd of people came to honor and thank her for the gift she had been for their city.
There are many different ways to help others. Blessed Christina shows us how to help other people by praying for them and being attentive to their needs and sufferings.
January 19
St. Paula
Paula was born in 347 in Rome. She belonged to a wealthy, noble family. When she grew up, she married a man named Toxotius. They lived a happy married life and had five children. When Paula was thirty-two years old, her husband died. Paula began to live a life completely dedicated to God. She devoted herself to prayer and to reading the Bible. She offered God the sacrifice of her fasting. Because she was wealthy, she was able to help the poor and needy. Paula was fortunate to have the holy and learned priest, St. Jerome, to give her good advice. (We cele- brate the feast of St. Jerome on September 30.) From him, Paula learned the importance of reading and studying Holy Scripture. When Paula’s oldest daughter died, Jerome comforted her in her time of sorrow. He helped her to rely on her faith in God and the hope of heaven. When St. Jerome made a journey to the Holy Land in order to work on his translation of the Bible into Latin, Paula went with him. There she saw the places where Jesus lived and taught. She decided to live in Bethlehem, and she established a convent there, where she lived a simple life of prayer. She helped St. Jerome in his work, and he valued her knowledge of the Bible. Paula continued to use her money to build churches and monasteries in the Holy Land. She also took care of St. Jerome. Paula died on January 26, in 404. She had lived in Bethlehem for twenty years. She was buried beneath the Church of the Nativity. She is the patron saint of widows.
St. Paula was able to bear suffering and loss in her life because of her faith and trust in God. She knew God very well because she read his Word daily. An important part of being close to God is allowing him to speak to us in Sacred Scripture. It’s good to set aside a little time each day to read the Bible and make it part of our lives.
January 20
St. Fabian and St. Sebastian
Fabian, who lived in Rome, was the first man who was not a priest to be elected pope. He was elected pope in the year 236. We know very little about this saint. It is said that he was chosen to be pope because a dove rested on his head during the election. We do know that Fabian spoke out against Bishop Privatus who was spreading false teachings in Africa. Pope Fabian was also responsible for having the catacombs (underground Roman cemeteries where many of the early Christians were buried) repaired and restored. In the year 250, he died a martyr’s death during Emperor Decius’ persecution. St. Fabian is buried in the Basilica of St. Sebastian. The two martyrs share the same feast day. Sebastian was a soldier in the Roman army from 283 to 288. According to legend, he gave encouragement to the Christians who were condemned to death for their faith. He also convinced many pagans to embrace Christianity. Emperor Diocletian didn’t know that Sebastian was a Christian, and he made him captain of the praetorian guards (men who guarded a Roman commander or emperor). When Maximian became emperor, he discovered that Sebastian was a Christian and ordered him to be put to death. Sebastian was shot with arrows. When the Christians came to bury him, they realized he was still alive! They cared for him until he got well again. Soon after this, Sebastian confronted the emperor and spoke out against his cruel treatment of the Christians. The emperor, shocked to see him alive, ordered that Sebastian be beaten to death. St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers, athletes, and soldiers.
St. Fabian and St. Sebastian were very different from one another. One was a pope and the other was a soldier. They teach us that Jesus loves us individually, just as we are. Like Fabian and Sebastian, we each have our own gift to give others. The important thing is to give our gifts with all our hearts.
January 21
St. Agnes
Much of Agnes’ story comes down to us in the form of legend, but it is a fact that she was a martyr in the early fourth century. She has always been a popular saint because St. Ambrose and other well-known early Church saints have written about her. Agnes was a beautiful young girl who belonged to a wealthy Roman family. She loved God very much and wanted to give her heart only to him. She chose Jesus as her spouse and would not marry anyone else. Because Agnes was rich and beautiful, many young Roman noblemen wanted to marry her. But she answered them all by saying, “I already have a husband in heaven—Jesus.” The young men became angry and reported Agnes to the governor, accusing her of being a Christian. This was in the year 304, when Christians were being put to death by order of the emperor Diocletian. Even though Agnes was only thirteen years old, she faced the governor bravely. She would not turn away from God. She would not burn incense to the idols. She wasn’t even afraid when the governor threatened to have her tortured. This made the governor so angry that he sent Agnes to the house of some evil women, so that they could lead her to sin. But Agnes remained pure and holy, trusting in Jesus, who made her strong. When Agnes was brought back to the governor, he ordered her to be beheaded. Agnes bowed her head before the executioner. She felt happy to give her life for Jesus, and she looked forward to being with him soon in heaven. In one stroke, the executioner cut off Agnes’ head. She is buried in a cemetery named after her. In 354, Emperor Constantine ‘s daughter built a large church there and had Agnes’ body placed under the altar. St. Agnes’ symbol is the lamb.
St. Agnes made heroic decisions and stuck to them. She could do this because she made Jesus the center of her life. Her love for Jesus gave her the strength she needed to be true to her Christian faith. We can ask St. Agnes for her courage and love for Jesus.
January 22
St. Vincent of Saragossa
St. Vincent was born in Huesca, in Spain. He was educated by Valerius, the bishop of Huesca. Bishop Valerius ordained Vincent a deacon and gave him the task of preaching, even though he was still young. This was because Bishop Valerius recognized Vincent’s talents and goodness. In 304, both Vincent and Bishop Valerius were arrested by Dacian, the governor of Spain. The emperors Diocletian and Maximian had published a decree ordering that all Christians be put to death. Vincent and Valerius were imprisoned in Valencia, where they suffered from hunger and were treated cruelly. When they were brought before Dacian, Vincent spoke for both of them, saying they were ready to suffer and die for the true God. Dacian banished Valerius from Spain. But he handed Vincent over to be tortured. In spite of the terrible pains he suffered, Vincent remained peaceful and strong in his faith. He refused to sacrifice to idols or to hand over the sacred books of his church to be burned. The more pains he endured, the more strength God gave him. When the tortures were over, Vincent was brought back to his prison cell. No one was allowed to bring him food or visit him. When the prison warden saw Vincent’s faith and his peaceful attitude, he was convinced that Vincent worshiped the true God, and he became a Christian. After this, Emperor Dacian allowed Vincent to have visitors. The Christians came to his dungeon to take care of him, but a short time later Vincent died.
St. Vincent remained strong during a time of persecution because of the influence of the holy bishop, Valerius. Vincent had learned from the bishop what it takes to be a follower of Jesus. Let’s ask St. Vincent to help us recognize and follow the good example of others.
January 23
St. William of Bourges
William came from a wealthy French family. As a boy, he loved to pray and study. When he grew up he joined the Cistercian Order, and tried to be a good monk. His fellow monks admired him, even though he was not trying to impress anybody. William had a great devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He always seemed to be happy. When he was made abbot of his community of monks, he remained humble. After the archbishop of Bourges died, William was chosen to take his place. He was grateful to be consecrated a bishop, but unhappy because of all the attention he would receive. He kept humble by doing penance to make up for his own sins and to ask God for the conversion of sinners. Although William loved to be alone with God in the Blessed Sacrament, he knew it was his duty as archbishop to travel all over his diocese and care for his people. William celebrated the Eucharist and preached the faith. He visited the poor and the sick, consoling them and reminding them of how much God loved them. Archbishop William died on January 10, 1209. He was buried in the cathedral of Bourges. Miracles were reported by people who prayed at his tomb. William was proclaimed a saint in 1218 by Pope Honorius III.
Even though St. William had an important position as an archbishop, he was humble. He never thought he was more important than other people. We can ask St. William to help us when we feel like showing off or acting like we know more than others
January 24
St. Francis de Sales
Francis de Sales was born in his family’s castle at Savoy, France, on August 21, 1567. Because he was born two months early, he was very weak as a baby. But he grew strong and healthy and was a very obedient and kind little boy. Francis’s mother taught him to pray. She read the lives of the saints to him, and took him with her whenever she went out to visit the poor. He received a very good education. He studied at Annecy, and then went to Paris to attend the Jesuit College of Clermont. After this he went on to study law and theology at the University of Padua. By the age of twenty-four, Francis had already earned a doctorate in law. Francis’s world was opening up to him with many promises of a successful career. But he felt called to the priesthood. It was hard to persuade his disappointed father, but Francis followed God’s call and became a priest on December 18, 1593. He volunteered to go to Chablais to work as a missionary among many people who had left the Church and were very unfriendly toward priests. Even though some of these people tried to kill him, Father Francis continued working among them. His patience and kindness brought many back to the Church. In 1602, Francis was made bishop of Geneva, Switzerland. He worked very hard to bring unity back to the Church at a time when there were many problems. He opened schools, taught and preached. In 1604, Francis met a holy woman named Jane Frances de Chantal. (Jane later became a saint too.) He became her spiritual director, and in 1610 he helped her found the Order of the Visitation, a new order of sisters. Francis de Sales wrote many wonderful books about God and the way to become closer to him. In these books Francis taught that holiness is possible in everyday life, and that God calls us all to become saints. Some of Francis’s books, like Introduction to the Devout Life, written in 1609, and Treatise on the Love of God, written in 1616, are still in print today. Bishop Francis de Sales died in Lyons, France, on December 28, 1622. He was fifty-six years old. Pope Innocent X declared Francis a saint in 1665. Because of his heroic dedication to the Church, he was given the special title “Doctor of the Church.” He is also the patron saint of journalists.
We can learn many lessons from St. Francis de Sales. He shows us that with love and patience, we can bring many people closer to Jesus. The best way to preach the Gospel of Jesus is to live it sincerely.
January 25
Conversion of St. Paul
Saul was a Jew, born in Tarsus and brought up in Jerusalem. As a young man, he was very zealous for the Jewish law and traditions. He thought that the Christian way of life was something opposed to God and his law. Because of this, Saul persecuted the Christians with all his might. One day, Saul headed for Damascus with some men. He had permission to capture any Christians he could find in the city and bring them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned and punished. Just before he got to the city, a bright light flashed around him and he fell to the ground. A voice called to him, ”Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Saul was confused. He asked the voice, ”Who are you, Sir?” The voice answered, ”I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” “What do you want me to do?” Saul asked. Jesus told Saul to go to Damascus, where he would find out what he should do. At that moment, through the power of God, Saul received the gift to believe in Jesus. Weak and trembling, he reached out for help. His companions led him into Damascus. Now that he was blind he could really “see” the truth. And Jesus had come personally to meet him, to invite him to conversion. In Damascus, a Christian named Ananias stood before him and said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight back. ”And Saul could see again! Ananias told Saul that God had chosen him to tell many people in many lands about Jesus. Saul was baptized, and started to live the life of a Christian. He used his Roman name, Paul, from then on because he had been chosen by God to go to the people who were not Jewish and tell them about Jesus. St. Paul traveled all over the world, preaching the Good News. He led countless people to Jesus. He worked and suffered. His enemies tried to kill him several times. But nothing could stop him. When Paul was old and tired, he was once again put in prison and sentenced to die. Still St. Paul was happy to suffer and even die for Christ. This great apostle wrote wonderful letters to the Christians. They are in the Bible. These letters, called epistles, are read often during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. The story of St. Paul’s conversion is found in the Acts of the Apostles, in chapters 9, 22, and 26. For more about St. Paul, see June 29, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.
St. Paul’s conversion was very important for the life of the Church. But Jesus calls us just as he called Paul on the road to Damascus. He invites us to give up doing whatever keeps us from coming closer to him. Let’s ask St. Paul to help us.
January 26
St. Timothy and St. Titus
Besides having been bishops in the early Church, Timothy and Titus have something else in common. Both men received the gift of faith through the preaching of St. Paul. Timothy was born at Lystra, in Asia Minor. His father was Greek and his mother was Jewish. When Paul came to preach in Lystra, Timothy, his mother and his grandmother all became Christians. Several years later, Paul went back to Lystra. Timothy was grown up now, and Paul felt that God was calling him to be a missionary. Paul invited Timothy to join him in preaching the Gospel. And so Timothy left his home and parents to follow Paul. Paul and Timothy shared both the joys and sufferings of bringing the Word of God to many, many people. Timothy was like a son to Paul. He went everywhere with him until he became bishop of Ephesus. Then Timothy stayed at Ephesus to shepherd his people. St. Timothy died a martyr, just as St. Paul had. Titus was a Gentile (a non-Jewish person) converted by St. Paul. He became Paul’s secretary and was with him at the Council of Jerusalem. Titus was generous and hardworking. He joyfully preached the Good News with Paul on their missionary travels. Because Titus was so trustworthy, Paul freely sent him on many “missions” to the Christian communities. Titus helped people strengthen their faith in Jesus. He had a special gift for being a peacemaker and was able to bring Christians together again after there had been arguments among them. Paul appreciated this gift in Titus and recognized it as the Holy Spirit’s work. While preaching in Crete, Paul was called away to other churches that needed him. Not wanting to leave the Christians at Crete without a shepherd, he ordained Titus bishop and left him there to continue his work. Titus remained at Crete for the rest of his life. Paul wrote a letter to him from Macedonia in the year 65.
St. Timothy and St. Titus gave their whole lives—their time and energy—to Jesus. They were true disciples of St. Paul. It’s easy to overlook the people in our lives who help us better understand our faith. Let’s pray today for all who spread the Good News as Paul, Timothy and Titus did.
January 27
St. Angela Merici
Angela Merici was born on March 21, 1470, at Desenzano, Lombardy, in Northern Italy. She was orphaned at age ten, and she and her sister went to live with their uncle at Salo, a nearby town. When she was thirteen years old, Angela joined the Secular Franciscan Order (also called the Third Order), and began to live a life of prayer and self-discipline. In 1495 her uncle died, and Angela moved back to Desenzano. Here she had a vision. She saw herself teaching a group of young girls. Angela invited some of her Third Order friends to help her teach girls from poor families, and she opened a school in her home. In 1516, she was asked to come to Brescia to start another school just like it. Angela made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the trip, she lost her sight, but miraculously received it back. In 1525 Angela went to Rome for the Holy Year. While she was there, Pope Clement VII asked her if she would like to be the superior of a community of nursing sisters. But she explained that God wanted her to devote herself to teaching the poor, and she went back to Brescia. In 1533 Angela started training a group of women to be teachers. By November 25, 1535, there were twenty-eight women in the group. Together with Angela they wanted to dedicate their lives to God and to teaching young girls, especially the poor. They chose St. Ursula, the patroness of medieval universities, as their patron saint. The women remained in their own homes at first. Because of many difficulties, it was a long time before they could live together in a convent. But little by little this community of young women started by St. Angela developed into the Ursuline Sisters, the first congregation of teaching sisters in the Church. Angela died on January 27, 1540, when her congregation was still in its beginning stages. Her trust in God had gotten her through many hard tests in her lifetime. There was no doubt in her mind that the Lord would take care of the mission she had begun. And so he did. Today the Ursuline Sisters have spread to many countries. Angela’s sisters continue to work for Jesus and his Church, especially in the education of children and young adults. Angela was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius VI in 1807.
St. Angela Merici reminds us that our own struggles and disappointments can help us understand the hurts of others. When we are willing to reach out, the Lord will use us to bring his blessings to others. We can ask St. Angela to show us how to be sensitive and compassionate.
January 28
St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomas was born to a noble family around 1225, in Aquino, Italy. When he was five or six years old, his mother and father sent him to the Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino to study. In the fall of 1239 he transferred to the University of Naples to continue his education. In Naples, Thomas met some members of a new religious order called the Order of Preachers. Their founder, St. Dominic, was still living. Thomas knew that he wanted to be a priest, and he felt called to the life being lived by the followers of St. Dominic (soon to become known as the “Dominicans”). Thomas joined the Order of Preachers, but his family was totally against his decision. His brothers even kidnapped him and brought him back to Roccasecca castle. His family kept him there, almost like a prisoner, for about fifteen months, trying to make him change his mind. But Thomas spoke so beautifully about the joy of serving God that they finally changed their minds and let him go back to the Dominicans! Thomas rejoined the Order in 1245, and was sent to study at Paris. Even though he was very intelligent, Thomas was always very humble. He never showed off. In fact, his classmates often thought that he was not very bright because he was so quiet in class. Thomas was ordained a priest at Cologne, Germany, in 1250 or 1251. After his ordination, Thomas began to teach at the University of Paris. He soon became famous for his wonderful teachings about the Bible. Around 1259 he returned to Italy. He continued his work as a teacher there. During these years Thomas also wrote many books. Some were all about God. Others explained many important things about our Catholic faith. St. Thomas wrote so well that people all over the world still use his books. His explanations about God and the faith came from his great love for God. Thomas was effective because he wasn’t trying to make an impression on anyone. He only wanted with all his heart to offer the gift of his life to Jesus and the Church. Even though his intelligence was amazing, Thomas knew that holiness of life was the most important thing. He used to say, ”I learn more things from praying before a crucifix than I do from books.” Around the end of 1273, Pope Gregory X asked Thomas to be part of an important Church meeting called the Council of Lyons. While traveling to the meeting, Thomas became ill. He had to stop at a monastery at Fossanova, Italy, where he died. It was March 7, 1274. He was only forty-nine. Thomas Aquinas was canonized a saint in 1323 by Pope Benedict XI. St. Thomas is also a Doctor of the Church and the patron saint of universities, colleges and schools.
All of St. Thomas’ learning, writing, and teaching are not what made him a saint. He became a saint by doing everything for God with love. He will help us do the same if we ask him.
January 29
St. Genevieve
Genevieve was born in the small village of Nanterre, near Paris, France, around the year 422. When she was seven years old, St. Germanus, the bishop of Auxerre, visited her town. After hearing him preach, Genevieve decided to consecrate her life to God. When Genevieve’s parents died, she went to live with her godmother in Paris. She became a nun at the age of fifteen (this was not unusual in those days). Genevieve was very close to God, and God sometimes let her know things that would happen in the future. The people of Paris made fun of her predictions about the future, but Bishop Germanus believed her. When her predictions started to come true, Genevieve’s enemies began to believe and respect her. When Childeric and the Frank army took over Paris, the people suffered very much. Since there was a famine in the city, Genevieve went out with a group of people to look for food. They came back with several boats loaded with corn. Even though Childeric didn’t believe in God, he respected Genevieve and spared the lives of many prisoners when she asked him to. In 451, the people of Paris learned that Attila II and his Huns were headed toward them. In their fear, they decided to leave the city. But Genevieve convinced them to stay. She predicted that if everyone prayed and did penance, Attila and his Huns would pass around Paris, leaving it unharmed. As the people prayed with Genevieve, Attila suddenly changed the direction of his march, and did not invade Paris. Genevieve died on January 3, 512, at the age of eighty-nine. She was buried in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which she had designed and had convinced King Clovis to build. Because of the many miracles that took place near her tomb, the church was renamed in her honor. St. Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris.
St. Genevieve helped save the people of Paris by her prayers and by her courage in standing up for what was right. One of the best ways for us to help our country is to pray for our leaders. We should ask God to guide them for the good of us all.
January 30
St. Maria Soledad Torres-Acosta
Vibiana Torres-Acosta was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1826. As a child, her mother taught her to love God and his mother Mary. She also became aware of the poor people who were her neighbors, and she did what she could to help them. Vibiana would visit them when they were sick, and offer prayers and sacrifices for them. When she was older, Vibiana wanted to be a Dominican nun. But the convent was full, and she was placed on a waiting list. In the meantime, she heard about a new religious order of sisters being started by a priest named Father Michael Martinez. He wanted to do something to help the poor who could not afford to go to the hospitals when they got sick. Vibiana decided to ask Father Michael if she could help in his work. In 1851, at the age of twenty-four, Vibiana and six other young women became the first members of the Congregation of the Sister Servants of Mary. Vibiana received the name Sister Maria Soledad. The new community met with many hardships. But they were able to carry out their difficult work of taking care of the sick by seeing Jesus himself in their suffering patients. In 1856, a cholera epidemic struck the city of Madrid. Sister Soledad and her sisters worked tirelessly to help its victims. Because of their selflessness and courage in the face of danger, they became well known throughout Spain. After this, Father Michael left to work in the missions. He named Sister Soledad the superior general of the community before he left. This position of authority did not stop Sister Soledad from helping with the chores, working alongside her sisters as they washed their laundry at the river, gathered firewood, and cooked their simple meals. As the order grew, the Sister Servants of Mary opened foundations in Europe and the Americas. Sister Soledad died of pneumonia in Madrid in 1887. She was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
Saint Maria Soledad became a great saint by remaining humble and by living a poor and simple life. Sometimes we’re tempted to want a lot of things that we really don’t need. We can follow the example of St. Maria and think more of the treasures we will have in heaven.
January 31
St. John Bosco
John Bosco was born on August 16, 1815, in Becchi, a small town near Turin, Italy. His parents were poor farmers. When John was only two years old, his father died. John’s mother struggled to keep the family together. As soon as he was old enough, John began working as hard as he could to help his mother. As he grew up, John started to think about becoming a priest. But he didn’t say anything to his mother because he knew they couldn’t afford the seminary tuition. Besides, his mother needed help to run their farm. So John waited and prayed and hoped. Finally, a holy priest named Don Joseph Cafasso (“Don” is a special title of respect and honor which people in Italy use for priests) became aware of John’s desire. Don Cafasso helped him enter the seminary. John had to work his way through school. He learned all kinds of trades. He was a carpenter, a shoemaker, a cook, a pastry maker and a farmer. He did many other jobs as well. He could never have guessed how much this practical experience would help others later on. John became a priest in 1841. After his ordination, Don Bosco began working with Don Cafasso visiting the prisons in Turin. He was saddened to see how many boys were in the prisons, and how hopeless their futures were. Don Bosco decided to open a home for troubled boys. Because of his kindness and caring, it was easy for him to attract youngsters. Don Bosco taught the boys different trades so that they could get good jobs and not be tempted to steal or get into trouble. He prayed with them, and took them on outings. He even organized a brass band! By 1850, there were 150 boys living at his home for boys. Don Bosco’s mother was the housekeeper. At first, people didn’t understand what Don Bosco was trying to do. But soon everyone began to realize that he was carrying on a very important work. His boys were learning skills and receiving an education. They were becoming young men who would contribute to society instead of turning to lives of crime. Don Bosco even built a church for the boys. Daily Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation were the foundation of their whole education. Don Bosco felt that his success with the boys was due to an attitude of love and respect rather than the use of harsh discipline. Religious instruction and prayer helped the boys want to lead good lives. Don Bosco started his own religious order of priests and brothers too. They were called the Salesians, in honor of St. Francis de Sales. An order of Salesian sisters was started later, with the help of Mary Mazzarello (who also became a saint). When Don Bosco died in Turin on January 31, 1888, there were 250 Salesian houses around the world educating 130,000 children. By the same time, over 6,000 of his boys had chosen to become priests! One of them, Dominic Savio, who became one of Don Bosco’s students at the age of twelve, is now a saint too. A young parish priest who had once met Don Bosco later became Pope Pius XI. He had the joy of declaring Don Bosco a saint in 1934.
We can learn from St. John Bosco to use our skills and abilities to help others. What special talents do you have? Think of ways you can use these talents to help those around you. Try to also reach out in friendship to people you may find it hard to like. This is another way to imitate St. John Bosco.