Tag Archives: Church history

Deacon Companions

7 Aug

Pope Sixtus and companionsI’ve often wondered about the saints who go down in Church history as “companions.” For example, today the Church celebrates the feast of Pope St. Sixtus II and companions, who were martyred in 258 A.D. during the persecution of Emperor Valerian.

Clearly the “companions” are the “supporting actors and actresses” in the drama of Church history, supporting saintly protagonists in bearing witness to their Savior. These humble servants remained faithful to the end, and their blood became the seed for the Church in their respective eras.

But who are today’s companions? Well, Valerian issued a decree to the effect that all bishops, priests, and deacons were to be summarily put to death because of their opposition to the pagan worship of the empire. Pope Sixtus was executed on August 6, 258. His “companions” in martyrdom were six of his seven deacons (cf. Acts 6:1-6). Their names were Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, Stephanus, Felicissimus, and Agapitus.

Who was the seventh deacon? Did he flee from the persecutors? Did he go into hiding? Hardly. It was none other than St. Lawrence, perhaps the most beloved deacon in the history of the Church, who was martyred a few days later, on August 10. The universal Church celebrates his feast on Saturday. While Lawrence was a distinguished servant (diakonos) of the Lord and the “right hand man” of his beloved Pope, I suspect he also took great delight in simply being known as a “companion” of his brother deacons.

The Original Pope John

17 May

St. John IPerhaps someday, probably decades or even centuries from now, Pope Francis will become a canonized saint. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but approximately 30% of all Popes eventually become “saints,” so it is a realistic possibility. And should it happen, I imagine that when someone says “St. Francis,” most will still think first of St. Francis of Assisi. Then, the speaker will say, “No, I meant St. Francis I, the 21st-century Pope” and proceed to tell us about the beloved Jesuit Pope from South America.

Something similar is at work tomorrow, as we celebrate the feast of St. John. No, not the beloved disciple and author of the Fourth Gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelation. Rather, it’s the feast of St. John I, the first of 23 popes by that name, who lived in the sixth century.

Little is known about the life of St. John I, the 53rd pope. We do know that he was an archdeacon at the time his predecessor, Pope Hormisdas, died in 523. Pope John became the first Roman Pontiff to travel to Constantinople, where he was well received by Emperor Justice, the clergy, and the faithful. He even helped to reconcile the Western and Eastern Churches. However, Theodoric, the Arian King of the Ostrogoths and Italy, was suspicious of the Pope’s interaction with Constantinople. He had the Pope arrested and incarcerated during his return to Rome in 526, and Pope John I died a martyr’s death while in custody.

This day, may we turn to the original “Good Pope John” in our prayers:

God our Father,
rewarder of all who believe,
hear our prayers
as we celebrate the martyrdom of Pope John.
Help us to follow him in loyalty to the faith.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen. +

Can Someone Refuse to Be Elected Pope?

18 Feb
St. Philip Benizi

St. Philip Benizi

It is possible to decline the responsibility of becoming the next Pope. There are many instances of prominent cardinals who have made it clear during the conclave that they would not accept if elected.

One famous case is that of St. Philip Benizi. When he learned that he was being considered for the papacy in 1271, he ran away and hid until the cardinals elected somebody else! Usually, though, the newly elected Pope accepts this office as God’s will for him.

In his 1996 apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, Pope John Paul II made the following heartfelt plea to those elected after him:

“I . . . ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to submit humbly to the design of the divine will. God who imposes the burden will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it. In conferring the heavy task upon him, God will also help him to accomplish it and, in giving him the dignity, he will grant him the strength not to be overwhelmed by the weight of his office” (no. 86).

Once a papal candidate has been elected according to the procedure provided by Church law, the dean of the college of cardinals asks for his consent in the following words: “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” And, as soon as he has received the consent, he asks him: “By what name do you wish to be called?” (Universi Dominici Gregis, nos. 87-88).

So the process itself makes clear that even after his election, the papal nominee is free to withhold his consent and refuse this office. Only upon giving his consent does he become the new Pope, assuming (as is usually the case) that he has already received ordination as a bishop.

According to Luke

18 Oct

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Luke, author of the third Gospel and companion of St. Paul.

I don’t know about our readers, but I grow weary of study Bibles and Bible studies that go to great lengths to explain to us that so and so didn’t actually write the book of the Bible that bears his name, and that the events described in the book didn’t really happen. I want biblical materials that trust God’s inspired Word and our rich Catholic Tradition, not agnostic pseudo-scholarship.

That’s why I find the opening paragraphs of the introduction to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on The Gospel of Luke such a breath of fresh air: Continue reading

Vatican II turns 50

11 Oct

Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II have called the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the interpretive key to understanding their respective pontificates and a “sure compass” for the Church in the new millennium.

For many of us, particularly my generation, Vatican II  is also the key for understanding our own pilgrimage of faith. Pope John XXIII called the 21st ecumenical council only months before I was born, and the council ended the year I entered first grade at St. Elizabeth’s school.

As we mark today the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, Pope Benedict has asked us to look at the council with fresh eyes, to consider where we’ve been and where we’re heading as a Church and as individual Catholics striving to be faithful to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ during this “Year of Faith.”

My first encounter with Vatican II was an unforgettable lesson in first grade, when the teacher insisted over and over again that Vatican II (whatever that was) taught that the “Church” is not the building next door, but the “people.” While there’s an important and valid theological point there, at the time I still thought the building next door looked more like a “church” than my classmates did.

In third grade, as religious garb changed “because of Vatican II,” I was mesmerized by the fact that I could now see Sr. Ellen’s legs. Later that year, my mom explained to me that “because of Vatican II” many priests and religious were leaving their communities, including my beloved piano teacher.

Then in fifth grade, I gave up six months’ worth of recess–a real sacrifice; I lived for kickball–to be trained as an altar boy. Just as my confreres and I were considered prepared for this august service, we were told that the Mass was changing “because of Vatican II,” and so we needed to be retrained. Meanwhile, our church’s sanctuary was a construction zone the next several months, as the altar was moved forward and burnt orange carpeting was installed. I didn’t know what to think of this, though the carpet, irrespective of its aesthetic merit, was decidedly easier to kneel on.

In the eighth grade, I remember the teacher writing the word “ecumenism” on the blackboard. In fairness to her, I can’t recall whether she said anything that was contrary to the faith. However, I do know that the effect of the class on my classmates and me was that “because of Vatican II” it didn’t really matter whether one was Catholic. After all, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” I blithely continued to hone my collage skills and routinely brought home A’s in religion.

During my high school and college years, virtually all my peers left the Church, as did I. I remember well my ninth grade religion class in which we studied the Bible. We repeatedly were told about what we don’t believe anymore “because of Vatican II.” One got the impression that Vatican II painstakingly went through the Bible and identified for us all the myths, fables, and inaccuracies found in God’s inspired Word. In subsequent years, as I feebly groped for some spiritual guidance, I’d pick up a Catholic Bible or a Catholic biblical commentary and, rather than be nourished and buoyed in my faith, I was confronted with agnostic doublespeak.

The 80s Show

By the singular, undeserved grace of God, I accepted Jesus Christ back into my life as I completed law school in 1984. For me, this necessarily entailed walking back into the Church that so confused me “because of Vatican II.” Here’s what I found. Continue reading

This Date in Church History

13 May

On May 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to three children: Lucia Santos (10) and her cousins Francisco (8) and Jacinta (7) Marto. The children lived in Fatima, a rural community in the mountains of western Portugal.

After Sunday Mass that day, the children set out with their flocks to the Cova da Iria (“valley of peace”), which is now the site of the magnificent basilica in Fatima. After lunch, they saw what seemed to be a flash of lightning. Shortly after that, they saw, on a small holm-oak tree, a lady dressed in white, more brilliant than the sun. She identified herself as coming from heaven. She wanted the children to return to this site for six consecutive months, on the same day and time. She said she would tell them later who she was and what she wanted.

The Lady did ask the children if they were willing to offer themselves to God, and Lucia, answering for the three of them, said “yes.” The children were told that they would suffer much, but God Himself would be their comfort.

At the conclusion of the apparition, the Lady asked the children to pray every day for peace. Then she serenely rose and drifted away to the East, until she disappeared. Thus began a series of appearances in Fatima by the Blessed Virgin Mary, culminating in the “miracle of the sun” on October 13, 1917.

Thirty years ago, on May 13, 1981, an assassin attempted to kill Blessed John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. He credited Our Lady of Fatima for the sparing of his life. It was later revealed that this event was the fulfillment of Our Lady’s prophecy to the Fatima children given in July 1917.

Today, 94 years after the Blessed Virgin Mary’s first appearance in Fatima, the universal Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. May Our Lady’s message of prayer (especially the Rosary), penance, and peace resonate throughout the Church and take deeper root in our own hearts.

God our Father,
you give joy to the world
by the resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through the prayers of his mother, the Virgin Mary,
bring us to the happiness of eternal life.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.