This feast day has been celebrated in the Eastern Churches since the latter part of the fourth century and in the West since the 9th century.
While praying with Peter, James and John on a mountain, the Lord Jesus was transfigured, showing forth His divine glory and majesty.
A cloud descended and out of the cloud came a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (St. Luke 9:34) This occurred towards the end of our Lord’s ministry, and soon before His crucifixion.
Although by the world’s standards our Lord’s earthly ministry would seem to be a complete failure – as He was crucified, dead and buried – God the Father revealed to these three witnesses that Jesus’ complete gift of selfless love would bring victory and triumph in the end.
May we all be delivered from the disquietude of this world and be permitted to behold the King in all His transfigured glory and beauty. (The day’s collect, page E 98, The People’s Anglican Missal)
Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop, (C. 315-386) is best known for remaining steadfast in the faith in the face of the Arian heresy of his time, which denied the divinity of Christ.
He was often persecuted and even banished (three times!) from his Jerusalem see for his beliefs; however, nothing dissuaded him from preaching Christ fully divine and fully man.
We thank God for members of Christ’s body who have boldly stood up for the Faith, no matter the cost to them personally, so that the Church of future generations would know the only true God, and Jesus Christ.
After seven years at Classe, Romuald went to live as a hermit near Venice, under the guidance of a holy man who had him recite the Psalter from memory every day. When he stumbled, the hermit struck his left ear with a rod. Romuald suffered with patience, but one day, noting that he was losing his hearing in that ear, asked the old man to strike him on his right ear. This episode supposes great progress in virtue. The two religious were joined by Peter Urseolus, Duke of Venice, who desired to do penance also, and together they led a most austere life in the midst of assaults from the evil spirits.
Saint Romuald, whose aim was to restore the primitive rule to the Order of Saint Benedict, succeeded in founding some hundred monasteries in both Italy and France, and he filled the solitudes with hermitages. The principal monastery was that at Camaldoli, a wild, deserted region, where he built a church, surrounded by a number of separate cells for the solitaries who lived under his rule; his disciples were thus called Camaldolese. For five years the fervent founder was tormented by furious attacks by the demon. He repulsed him, saying, “O enemy! Driven out of heaven, you come to the desert? Depart, ugly serpent, already you have what is due you.” And the shamed adversary would leave him. Saint Romuald’s father, Sergius, was moved by the examples of his son, and entered religion near Ravenna; there he, too, was attacked by hell and thought of abandoning his design. Romuald went to visit him; he showed him the error of the devil’s ruses, and his father died in the monastery, in the odor of sanctity.
Among his first disciples were Saints Adalbert and Boniface, apostles of Russia, and Saints John and Benedict of Poland, martyrs for the faith. He was an intimate friend of the Emperor Saint Henry, and was reverenced and consulted by many great men of his time. He once passed seven years in solitude and total silence. He died, as he had foretold twenty years in advance, alone in his monastery of Val Castro, on the 19th of June, 1027, in an advanced and abundantly fruitful old age.
By the life of Saint Romuald, we see how God brings good out of evil. In his youth Saint Romuald was much troubled by temptations of the flesh; to escape them he had recourse to hunting, and it was in the woods that he first conceived his love for solitude. His father’s sin prompted him to undertake a forty days’ penance in the monastery, which he then made his permanent home. Some bad examples of his fellow-monks induced him to leave them and adopt the solitary mode of life; the repentance of a Venetian Duke brought him his first disciple. The temptations of the devil compelled him to lead his severe life of expiation; and finally, the persecutions of others were the occasion of his settlement at Camaldoli, mother house of his Order.
Reflection. If we follow the impulses of the Holy Spirit, like Saint Romuald we shall bring Him into situations which seem without hope. Our own sins, the sins of others, their ill will against us, our own mistakes and misfortunes, if we react with the help of God, are capable of bringing our own souls and others to the throne of God’s mercy and love.
He began a life of great mortification. Ordained a priest in 1328, he studied in Paris and Avignon, and on his return became the Apostle of Florence, and Prior of his convent there. In 1360 he was consecrated Bishop of Fiesole, near Florence, and gained a great reputation as a peacemaker between rival political factions and for his love of the poor. He was also named papal nuncio to Bologna, where he pacified dissenting factions and won the hearts of the nobility with whom he was associating. He wrought many miracles of healing and conversion during his lifetime.
At the age of 71, while he was celebrating the midnight Mass of Christmas, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he would leave this world on the feast of the Epiphany, to meet the beloved Master he had served so faithfully. In effect, he died on that day in 1373, in the thirteenth year of his episcopacy. Miracles were so multiplied thereafter that Pope Eugenius IV permitted a public cult immediately. The city of Florence has always invoked him with confidence and happy results. He was canonized in 1629.
He is often represented holding his crosier, with a wolf and a lamb at his feet, or hovering over a battlefield on a cloud or a white steed – this in memory of his miraculous intervention in a battle the Florentine people won by his assistance.
Our Saviour having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and His Blessed Mother remaining always a spotless virgin, it is evident that She was not subject to the law of purification, but devotion and zeal to honor God by every observance prescribed by His law, prompted Mary to perform this act of religion.
Besides the law which obliged the mother to purify herself, there was another which required that the first-born son be offered to God, and that after his presentation the child be ransomed with a certain sum of money, and specific sacrifices offered on the occasion. Mary complied exactly with all these ordinances. She obeyed not only in the essential points of the law, but had strict regard to all the circumstances. On the day of Her purification She walked several miles to Jerusalem, with the world’s Redeemer in Her arms. She waited for the priest at the gate of the Temple, made Her offerings of thanksgiving and expiation, and with the most profound humility, adoration and thanksgiving, presented Her divine Son, by the hands of the priest, to His Eternal Father. She then redeemed Him with five shekels, as the law appoints, and received Him back again as a sacred charge committed to Her special care, until the Father would again demand Him for the full accomplishment of man’s redemption.
The ceremony of this day closed in a third mystery – the meeting in the Temple of the holy prophets Simeon and Anne with the Divine Infant and His parents. Saint Simeon, on that occasion, received into his arms the object of all his desires and sighs, and praised God for the happiness of beholding the much-longed-for Messiah. He foretold to Mary Her martyrdom of sorrow, and that Jesus would bring redemption to those who would accept it on the terms it was offered, but a heavy judgment on all who would obstinately reject it. Mary, hearing this terrible prediction, courageously and sweetly committed all to God’s holy Will. Simeon, having beheld Our Saviour, exclaimed: “Now Thou canst dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace, according to Thy word, because mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” The aged prophetess Anne, who had served God with great fervor during her long widowhood, also had the happiness of recognizing and adoring the Redeemer of the world. This feast is called Candlemas, because the Church blesses the candles to be borne in the procession of the day.
Reflection. Let us strive to imitate the humility of the ever-blessed Mother of God, remembering that humility is the path which leads to lasting peace and brings us closer to God, who gives His grace to the humble.
Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was the disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. Believing that the Church on earth should resemble that of the heavenly Jerusalem of which Saint John wrote in his Apocalypse, he established singing in choirs in his church at Antioch, after a vision of the celestial choirs who sang in that manner. When the emperor Domitian persecuted the Church, Saint Ignatius obtained peace for his own flock by fasting and prayer, although for his own part he desired to suffer with Christ, and to prove himself a perfect disciple.
The Roman emperors often visited Antioch, one of the cities of first importance of the empire. In 107, the eighth year of the reign of the emperor Trajan, he came to Antioch and forced the Christians to choose between apostasy and death. Saint Ignatius, who had already governed that church for forty years, continued to fortify it against apostasy, and did not flee. Arrested and brought before the emperor, the latter addressed him: “Who are you, poor devil, to set our commands at naught?” “Call not poor devil,” Ignatius answered, “one who bears God within him.” And when the emperor asked him what he meant by that, Ignatius explained that he bore in his heart Christ, crucified for his sake. “Change your ideas, and I will make you a priest of the great Jupiter, and you will be called ‘father’ by the Senate.” “What could such honors matter to me, a priest of Christ, who offer Him every day a sacrifice of praise, and am ready to offer myself to Him also?” “To whom? To that Jesus who was crucified by Pontius Pilate?” “Yes, and with whom sin was crucified, and the devil, its author, vanquished.”
The questions and the courageous replies continued for a time that day and also on the following one. Saint Ignatius said, “I will not sacrifice; I fear neither torments nor death, because I desire to go quickly to God.” Thereupon the emperor condemned him to be torn to pieces by wild beasts in Rome. Saint Ignatius blessed God, who had so honored him, “binding him in the same chains as Paul, His apostle.” When his people wept, he told them to place their hope in the sovereign Pastor, who never abandons His flock. On passing through the city of Smyrna, he exhorted the faithful, who were grieved at his fate, to remain true to Christ until death, and he gave some of them who were going to Rome a letter for the Christians of the capital of the Christian world. This letter is still extant. He writes: “I fear your charity, I fear you have an affection too human for me. You might prevent me from dying, but by so doing, you would oppose my happiness. Suffer me to be immolated while the altar is ready; give thanks to God… If when I arrive among you I should have the weakness to seem to have other sentiments, do not believe me; believe only what I am writing to you now.” This letter of Saint Ignatius has encouraged all generations of Christians in their combats.
He journeyed to Rome, guarded by soldiers, and with no fear but of losing the martyr’s crown. Three of his disciples, who accompanied him and were eyewitnesses of the spectacle, wrote the acts of his martyrdom: His face shining with joy, he reassured them as the lions were released, saying: “I am the wheat of Christ, I will be ground by the teeth of the beasts and made into flour to be a good bread for my Lord Jesus Christ!” He was devoured by lions in the Roman amphitheater. The wild beasts left nothing of his body except a few bones, which were reverently treasured at Antioch until their removal in the year 637 to the Church of Saint Clement in Rome. After the martyr’s death, several Christians saw him in vision, in prayer to Christ, and interceding for them.
Reflection. Ask Saint Ignatius to obtain for you the grace of profiting by all you have to suffer, and rejoicing in it as a means of likeness to your crucified Redeemer.
John’s knowledge of poverty was firsthand. He was born in 1815 in the village of Becchi in the Piedmont district of northern Italy, and reared on his parents’ small farm. When his father died, Margaret Bosco and her three sons found it harder than ever to support themselves, and while John was still a small boy he had to join his brothers in the farm work. Although his life was hard, he was a happy, imaginative child. Even as a boy, John found innocent fun compatible with religion. To amuse his friends he learned how to juggle and walk a tightrope; but he would entertain them only on condition that each performance begin and end with a prayer.
As he grew older, John began to think of becoming a priest, but poverty and lack of education made this seem impossible. A kindly priest recognized his intelligence, however, and gave him his first encouragement, teaching him to read and write. By taking odd jobs in the village, and through the help of his mother and some charitable neighbors, John managed to get through school and find admittance to the diocesan seminary of nearby Turin. As a seminarian he devoted his spare time to looking after the ragamuffins who roamed the slums of the city. Every Sunday he taught them catechism, supervised their games and entertained them with stories and tricks; before long his kindness had won their confidence, and his “Sunday School” became a ritual with them.
After his ordination in 1841, he became assistant to the chaplain of an orphanage at Valocco, on the outskirts of Turin. This position was short-lived, for when he insisted that his Sunday-school boys be allowed to play on the orphanage grounds, they were turned away, and he resigned. He began looking for a permanent home for them, but no “decent” neighborhood would accept the noisy crowd. At last, in a rather tumbledown section of the city, where no one was likely to protest, the first oratory was established and named for Saint Francis de Sales. At first the boys attended school elsewhere, but as more teachers volunteered their time, classes were held at the house. Enrollment increased so rapidly that by 1849 there were three oratories in various places in the city.
For a long time Don Bosco had considered founding an Order to carry on his work, and this idea was supported by a notoriously anticlerical cabinet minister named Rattazzi. Rattazzi had seen the results of his work, and although an Italian law forbade the founding of religious communities at that time, he promised government support. The founder-priest went to Rome in 1858 and, at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, drew up a Rule for his community, the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (Salesians). Four years later he founded an Order for women, theDaughters of Mary, Help of Christians, to care for abandoned girls. Finally, to supplement the work of both congregations, he organized an association of lay people interested in aiding their work.
Exhausted from touring Europe to raise funds for a new church in Rome, Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888. He was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. The work of John Bosco continues today in over a thousand Salesian oratories throughout the world. No modern Saint has captured the heart of the world more rapidly than this smiling peasant-priest from Turin, who believed that to give complete trust and love is the most effective way to nourish virtue in others.
SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
Bishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church
Saint John Chrysostom, born in Antioch in 344, was endowed with a superior genius strengthened by a brilliant education. In order to break with a world which admired and courted him, in 374 he retired for six years to a neighboring mountain, having found Christ through his friendship with Saint Basil. After acquiring the art of Christian silence, he returned to Antioch and there labored as a priest under the direction of its bishop. His eloquence was such that the entire city, up to a hundred thousand listeners, came to hear him, a young man not yet thirty years old. He fled this popularity and adopted the monastic life for fourteen years, until he was taken forcibly to Constantinople, to be consecrated Patriarch of the imperial city in 398.
The effect of his sermons was everywhere marvelous. He converted a large number of pagans and heretics by his eloquence, then in its most brilliant luster, and constantly exhorted his Catholic people to frequent the Holy Sacrifice. In order to remove all excuse for absence he abbreviated the long liturgy then in use. Saint Nilus relates that Saint John Chrysostom, when the priest began the Holy Sacrifice, very often saw “many of the Blessed coming down from heaven in shining garments, eyes intent, and bowed heads, in utter stillness and silence, assisting at the consummation of the tremendous mystery.”
Beloved as he was in Constantinople, his denunciations of vice made him numerous enemies. In 403 these procured his banishment; and although he was almost immediately recalled, it was not more than a reprieve. In 404 he was banished to Cucusus in the deserts of the Taurus mountains. His reply to the hostile empress was: “Chrysostom fears only one thing – not exile, prison, poverty or death – but sin.”
In 407, at sixty-three years old his strength was waning, but his enemies were impatient and transported him to Pytius on the Euxine, a rough journey of nearly 400 miles. He was assiduously exposed to every hardship – cold, wet clothing, and semi-starvation, but nothing could overcome his cheerfulness and his consideration for others. On the journey his sickness increased, and he was warned that his end was near. Thereupon, exchanging his travel-stained clothes for white garments, he received Viaticum, and with his customary words, “Glory be to God for all things. Amen,” passed to Christ. He does not have the title of martyrdom, but possesses all its merit and all its glory. He is the author of the famous words characterizing Saint Paul, object of his admiration and love: “The heart of Paul was the Heart of Christ.”
Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of Saint John. He wrote to the Philippians, exhorting them to mutual love and to hatred of heresy. When the apostate Marcion met Saint Polycarp at Rome, he asked the aged Saint if he knew him. “Yes,” Saint Polycarp answered, “I know you for the first-born of Satan.” These were the words of a Saint, most loving and most charitable, and specially noted for his compassion to sinners. He abhorred heresy, because he loved God and man so well.
In 167 persecution broke out in Smyrna. When Polycarp heard that his pursuers were at the door, he said, “The Will of God be done;” and meeting them, he begged to be left alone for a little time, which he spent in prayer for the Catholic Church throughout the world. He was brought to Smyrna early on Holy Saturday; and as he entered, a voice was heard from heaven, “Polycarp, be strong.” When the proconsul urged him to curse Christ and go free, Polycarp answered, “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me wrong; how can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?” When he threatened him with fire, Polycarp told him this fire of his lasted but a short time, while the fire prepared for the wicked lasted forever.
At the stake he thanked God aloud for letting him drink of Christ’s chalice. The fire was lighted, but it did him no harm; therefore he was stabbed to the heart, and his dead body was burnt. “Then,” say the writers of his acts, “we took up the bones, more precious than the richest jewels or gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, at which may God grant us to assemble with joy, to celebrate the birthday of the martyr to his life in heaven!”
Reflection. If we love Jesus Christ, we shall love the Church and hate heresy, which divides His Mystical Body and destroys the souls for whom He died. Like Saint Polycarp, we shall maintain our constancy in the faith by love of Jesus Christ, who is the Church’s Founder and its last end.