Saint Bernadette Soubirous, Feast Day, February 18th
Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age.
There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette’s initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of “the Lady” brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There, the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig.
According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was
Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.
During her life, Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later, she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four monthsof her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. She was canonized in 1933.
Millions of people have come to the spring Bernadette uncovered for healing of body and spirit, but she found no relief from ill health there. Bernadette moved through life, guided only by blind faith in things she did not understand-as we all must do from time to time.
The Story of Our Lady of Lourdes
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. A little more than three years later, on February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary conceived without sin.”
During interrogations Bernadette gave an account of what she saw. It was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word aquero, a dialect term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity.
Through that humble girl, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. People began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. In 1862 Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions and authorized the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes for the diocese. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage and healing, but even more of faith. Church authorities have recognized over 60 miraculous cures, although there have probably been many more. To people of faith this is not surprising. It is a continuation of Jesus’ healing miracles-now performed at the intercession of his mother. Some would say that the greater miracles are hidden. Many who visit Lourdes return home with renewed faith and a readiness to serve God in their needy brothers and sisters.
There still may be people who doubt the apparitions of Lourdes. Perhaps the best that can be said to them are the words that introduce the film The Song of Bernadette: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”
St. Blaise, Feast Day February 3rd
Little is known about Saint Blaise prior to his mention in a court physician’s medical journal. The physician, Aëtius Amidenus, spoke of Saint Blaise’s aid in treating objects caught in the throat. He was also mentioned in the book of Acts, where he was aided by animals and treated people and beasts alike.
Saint Blaise is believed to begin as a healer then, eventually, became a “physician of souls.” He then retired to a cave, where he remained in prayer. People often turned to Saint Blaise for healing miracles.
In 316, the governor of Cappadocia and of Lesser Armenia, Agricola, arrested then-bishop Blaise for being a Christian. On their way to the jail, a woman set her only son, who was choking to death on a fish bone, at his feet.
Blaise cured the child, and though Agricola was amazed, he could not get Blaise to renounce his faith. Therefore, Agricola beat Blaise with a stick and tore at his flesh with iron combs before beheading him.
In another tale, Blaise was being led to the prison in Sebastea, and on the way came across a poor old woman whose pig had been stolen by a wolf. Blaise commanded the wolf return the pig, which it did -alive and uninjured – to the amazement of all.
When he reached Sebastea, the woman came to him and brought two fine wax candles in an attempt to dispel the gloom of his darkened cell.
In the Middle Ages, Blaise became quite popular and his legend as a beast tamer spread. He was then referred to as the “saint of the wild beast.” Many German churches are dedicated to Saint Blaise, sometimes called Saint Blasius.
In Great Britain, the village of St. Blazey got its name from Saint Blaise, and a church dedicated to the saint can be found in Decon hamlet of Haccombe, near Newton Abbot.
There is a Saint Blaise’s Well in Kent, and the water is believed to have medicinal properties. A Blessing of the Throats ceremony is held every February 3 at Saint Etheldreda’s Church in Londan and Balve, Germany.
A Catholic middle school was named after Saint Blaise in Bradford, West Yorkshire. The name was decided upon when the link between Bradford and the woolen industry was connected to the way St. Blaise was martyred: with woolcomb.
Saint Blaise is often depicted holding two crossed candles in his hand, or in a cave with wild animals. He is also often shown with steel combs. The similarity of the steel combs and the wool combs made a large contribution to Saint Blaise’s leadership as the patron saint of wool combers and the wool trade.
The Presentation of the Lord, Feast Day February 2nd
At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there. Among the celebrations she describes is the Epiphany (January 6), the observance of Christ’s birth, and the gala procession in honor of his Presentation in the Temple 40 days later-February 15.
This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.
The observance spread throughout the Western Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the Church in the West celebrated Jesus’ birth on December 25, the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days after Christmas.
At the beginning of the eighth century, Pope Sergius inaugurated a candlelight procession; at the end of the same century the blessing and distribution of candles which continues to this day became part of the celebration, giving the feast its popular name: Candlemass.
Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Story, Feast Day January 28th
By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.
At five he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually became abbot. In 1239, he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy.
By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year.
Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combated adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism.
His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished.
The Summa Theologiae, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on…. All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.
Reflection on St. Thomas Aquinas
We can look to Thomas Aquinas as a towering example of Catholicism in the sense of broadness, universality, and inclusiveness. We should be determined anew to exercise the divine gift of reason in us, our power to know, learn, and understand. At the same time we should thank God for the gift of his revelation, especially in Jesus Christ.
Mother Elizabeth Seton, Feast Day January 4th
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.
Elizabeth grew up in the upper class of New York society. She was a prolific reader, and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels.
In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth’s early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the Bible was to become her continual instruction, support and comfort -and she would continue to love the Scriptures for the rest of her life.
In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. Elizabeth wrote in her diary at first autumn, “My own home at twenty-the world-that and heaven too-quite impossible.”
This time of Elizabeth’s life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and partings she was to suffer. Within four years, William’s father died, leaving the young couple in charge of William’s seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family’s importing business.
Events moved quickly from there with devastating effect. Both William’s business and health failed. He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy and, in a final attempt to save William’s health, the Seton’s sailed for Italy, where William had business friends.
Unfortunately, William died of tuberculosis while in Italy. Elizabeth’s one consolation was that he had recently awakened to the things of God.
In Italy, Elizabeth captivated everyone by her kindness, patience, good sense, wit, and courtesy. During this time Elizabeth became interested in the Catholic Faith and, over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instruction.
Elizabeth’s desire for the Bread of Life was to be a strong force leading her to the Catholic Church.
Having lost her mother at an early age, Elizabeth felt great comfort in the idea that the Blessed Virgin was truly her mother. She asked the Blessed Virgin to guide her to the True Faith and officially joined the Catholic Church in 1805.
At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary’s College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. The school had originally been secular but once news of her entrance to Catholicism spread, several girls were removed from her school. It was then Seton, and two other young women who helped her in her work, began plans for a Sisterhood. They established the first free Catholic school in America. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.
On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, binding for one year. From that time she was called Mother Seton.
Although Mother Seton became afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today, six groups of sisters can trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation.
Mother Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963 and was canonized on September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI.
Solemnity of Mary, January 1st
What does the Solemnity of Mary mean?
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is a liturgical celebration observed on January 1st. It is a holy day of obligation for Catholics, meaning that Mass attendance is required (though the Mass obligation is sometimes waived by the bishop for various reasons; when in doubt, check with your parish.)
The use of the word “Solemnity” here is not a statement about Mary’s personality. It is a designation used for certain days within the liturgical (church-based) calendar of the Church. Solemnities are the highest rank of liturgical celebration, higher than feast days or memorials. By celebrating a solemnity dedicated to Mary’s motherhood, the Church highlights the significance of her part in the life of Jesus, and emphasizes that he is both human and divine.
Though New Year’s Day may seem more like a day for football and hangovers than for Mary, there’s a beautiful spiritual significance in celebrating her during the heart of the Christmas season. Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (1974), called the Solemnity of Mary “a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf.Lk 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.” — Ginny Kubitz Moyer January 2, 2011 at Bustedhalo.com