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NEW YEAR'S ISSUE      December 29 - January 3, 1999      SECTION THREE       vol 9, no. 250

To print out entire text of Today's issue, print this section as well as SECTION FOUR and SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO


NEW YEAR'S LITURGY

      This weekend we wrap up 1998 with the Sixth and Seventh Days in the Octave of Christmas with the optional feast of Pope Saint Sylvester I before saying hello to the first day of the final year of the second millennium with the glorious SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD followed by the Feasts of two Bishops and Doctors of the Church Saint Basil and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, and Sunday the Epiphany of the Lord which, in the past, was always celebrated on January 6th, the 12th Day of Christmas. For the liturgies, readings, meditations and vignettes for all the feasts covered for this New Year's issue, click on LITURGY

Tuesday, December 29, 1998

Optional Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

     Born in London, England around 1118, Saint Thomas Becket became a priest and bishop, studying law in Rome, Bologna and France and serving as chancelor under England's King Henry II. However his relationship with the king deteriorated when Thomas showed more allegiance to Rome than England regarding Church property and authority. Thomas' rival Bishop Foliot, bishop of London fueled the fires by plotting against him. This forced Becket to flee to France where he took up refuge there until returning six years later at the request of Pope Alexander III who needed the support of both the French king and Henry against the antipope Paschal III who had aligned with the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Thomas returned, hoping to reconcile with the king and to bring to justice those who had been plotting against him and the Church, but his mission was cut short when Foliot schemed with Henry to silence Thomas in the cathedral. Friends of Thomas' knew something was afoot and wanted to barricade Thomas inside the cathedral for his own safety, but Thomas exclaimed, "I am ready to die for the name of Jesus in defense of the Church." When they entered at sunset on December 29, 1170 four of Henry's knights with Foliot lurking in the shadows, shouted out "Where be the traitor? Where be Thomas Becket?" Thomas boldly presented himself proclaiming, "Here I am. No traitor I be, but rather a priest of God ready to shed my blood for Him." With that the dastardly deed was done on the sanctuary steps of the cathedral leading to the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Benedict. His death caused Alexander III to excommunicate Henry II and Foliot. But the king repented two years later and, thus Thomas' death reconciled the king of England with Holy Mother Church as well as reconciliation with France and established the church at Canterbury as Rome's. A year after Henry's public apology Alexander canonized Thomas as a great martyr of the Church.

Wednesday, December 30, 1998

Thursday, December 31, 1998

Optional Feast of Pope Saint Sylvester I

      On January 31, the 33rd successor to Peter was elected. He was Pope Saint Sylvester I who would enjoy a reign of 21 years as Pope. He became the first to wear the tiara and instituted Sunday as a holyday in memory of the Resurrection. Sylvester also created the "Iron Crown" with a nail from the Holy Cross which had been presented to him by Saint Helena. Through her influence and his own experience, her son Constantine, who would eventually convert just before his death, erected many churches throughout the Roman Empire including a basilica over the tomb of St. Peter which was the beginning of St. Peter's as well as a church over the tomb of St. Paul and oversaw the completion of St. John Lateran plus building an imperial palace for the Pope nearby. He also built churches in Nicomedia, Antioch and Tyre plus a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit known as St. Sophia in Constantinople and in Jerusalem -the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary , the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension on Mt. Olivet. It was Constantine who decided Rome was not the center but rather farther east in the ancient Grecian port of Byzantium which he renamed Constantinople, moving the cultural and civilized center of the Empire east to this city. With the government farther away from the seat of Catholicism the Church was free to spread spirituality more readily without interference from the State as was the case in the East and which led to the ultimate split of the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The latter split was a definite con because of the tragic results and because the State in the East eventually interfered too closely with the Church and continues to do so today in places such as Russia where the Orthodox Church is the State religion. In 325 the First Ecumenical Council was convened in Nice or Nicaea south of Constantinople. Though Sylvester was not present because he felt that it would not be expedient for him to be at a council organized by politicians (Constantine), his bishops kept him informed. It had been held for the prime purpose of condemning Arianism, which had arisen in 318 by Arius a priest in Libya who was preaching falsely that the Son of God was not "consubstantial" with the Father. Though his bishop condemned him, excommunicating Arius and his followers, his heresy spread like a forest fire throughout the Empire which greatly troubled Constantine. Thus, with permission of Pope Sylvester, Constantine summoned all 318 of the Church's bishops to a meeting in Nicaea. There the Council Fathers pronounced the true and principle doctrines, composing the Nicene Creed as a profession of faith for all to follow. Though Arius was banished, he returned to the Church repentant just before his death. Yet his heresy continued in many forms for many centuries as a source of problems to Holy Mother Church. Legend has it that Constantine contracted leprosy while persecuting the Church and was miraculously healed by Sylvester after pagan rites failed; hence, his generous "Donation of Constantine" to the Church and campaign to make Christianity the state religion. However, it really is only legend with no basis for fact. It is a fact however that Sylvester declined temporal power over Rome and chose to direct Rome eclessiastically. It is also fact that he passed decrees regulating Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as days of fasting for Catholics, a practice reintroduced by Our Lady at Medjugorje. Sylvester passed on to his Heavenly reward on December 31, 335 and the Church began celebrating his feastday less than 20 years later in 354 under Pope Liberius.

FRIDAY, January 1, 1998

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

      Pope Paul VI pronounced this special feast in 1970 to supercede the Feast of the Circumcision, which had been in vogue since early in the 6th Century. The Holy Father changed the feast to bring the Latin Calendar more into accord with Eastern tradition in the Byzantine Church which emphasizes the Marian character of this feast as the octave of Christmas. This is, however, not a new feast for it had been celebrated as early as the 5th Century on the Sunday before Christmas. Late in the 7th Century Pope Saint Sergius I introduced four new Marian feasts into the Church calendar with the Birth of Mary, the Annunciation, the Purification of Mary and the Assumption as well as celebrating the Maternity of Mary on the Octave of Christmas. It wasn't until the 14th Century that the Feast of the Circumcision was introduced and eventually squeezed out, so to speak, the Marian celebration. His Holiness Pope Paul VI stated in his encyclical Marialis Cultus, issued in 1974 "is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the 'holy Mother...through whom we were found worthy...to receive the Author of life." The Holy Father took this occasion to also institute that a World Day of Peace be celebrated on this same day "bringing forth fruits of peace in the hearts of many." Seven years later Our Lady herself confirmed this union of her solemnity as the Mother of God and the fruits of peace when she began appearing in Medjugorje, proclaiming herself the "Queen of Peace."

Saturday, January 2, 1998

Feast of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

      The blood brother of Saint Basil the Great was Saint Gregory of Nyssa, but it was another Gregory whom Basil would accomplish so much with - Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, a good friend of both brothers and whom we shall detail below. First of all Basil was born in 330 into a very holy family of saints during the pontificate of Saint Sylvester I. He was one of ten children born to his father Saint Basil the Elder and his mother Saint Emmelia, residents of Caesarea in Asia Minor. He was educated by both his father and his great grandfather Saint Macrina the Elder. Two of his classmates would play a pivotal part in his life - one of course was St. Gregory of Nazianzen and the other was Julian the Apostate. In 357 Basil established a popular school of rhetoric in Caesarea. It was the beginning of the intellectual influence in the last half of the 4th Century. Basil was ordained a priest in 363 and wrote two Rules for monastic life, leading the monastic movement in the east much the same way as Saint Benedict would in the west. A two year feud between Basil and Saint Eusebius fermented for they had disagreed vehemently over something and had remained apart until 365 when Gregory of Nazianzen asked Basil to help him fight the growing heresy of Arianism. Through Gregory Basil reconciled with Eusebius. On November 22, 365 Pope Felix died and many felt the Church would unite again but Pope Liberius' attempts to reconcile hit a snag when he passed on to his Heavenly reward on September 24, 366. He was succeeded by Pope Saint Damasus I on October 1, 366. Almost immediately the Arians countered by selecting the antipope Ursinus, but he lived only one year. Three years later Damasus elevated St. Basil to Bishop of Caesarea where the people embraced him totally. But this didn't stop the emperor Valens from testing the saint to the "enth" degree. He ordered Basil to receive the Arians back into the good graces of the Church without them repenting or ceasing from spreading heresy. Naturally, Basil refused. This infuriated Valens who first tried to bribe him, then threatened seizure of his property and even death. Basil laughed in the face of the devil, remarking that he owned nothing but his clothes and a few books and that he welcomed martyrdom. Valens knew his hands were tied because to follow through on his threat would mean absolute revolt by the people which he could not afford because he was also consumed with fighting the hordes on the eastern front. It was here that Valens was fatally wounded on the battlefield in 378. His successor was the Emperor Theodosius who had seen the unrest and disharmony caused by the Arians and had grown steadfastly opposed to this heretical sect. Unfortunately Basil did not live to see the fruits for he died a year later in 379, the same year his life-long friend St. Gregory of Nazianzen was appointed Bishop of Constantinople.

Like Saint Basil the Great a close friend throughout life, Saint Gregory Nazianzen was also born into a family of saints. A year older than Basil, Gregory was born in 329 at Nazianzus to his father Saint Gregory Nazianzen the Elder, then the bishop of Nazianzus, and his mother Saint Nonna. Young Gregory was more drawn to contemplation than the limelight and chose to spend most of his time in prayer with Basil in Pontus. Not really wanting to be ordained for active life but adhering the will of his saintly father, Gregory was ordained in 362 and helped his father run the diocese until two years before the elder's death when the younger Gregory was appointed Bishop of Sasima which was in Arian territory. Because of his deep love for his father he stayed on in Caesarea acting as coadjutor to his father. This seemed to be the only riff between Basil and Gregory and when Gregory's father died in 374 the son went into a state of depression, turning inward to prayer for the only answers. He suffered burn-out in 375 and, because of persecution by the Arians, spent the next five years in seclusian at Seleucia in Isauria. When the Eastern Emperor Valens died, he was asked by a group of stalwart bishops to come to Constantinople and preach to the people, revitalizing the Church in the East by restoring the proper Orthodoxy. Also like Basil, whenever he could he'd get away from the hustle and bustle of city ecclesial administration and politics, opting for the solitude of contemplative prayer for he had always wanted only that - to lead a solitary life. But the call of the Church and the people led him to an active life, including presiding at the First Ecumentical Council of Constantinople in 381. Throughout his episcopacy, just as with Basil, Arian bishops did all they could to discredit these saints and only through the grace of God were Gregory and Basil able to persevere and bear many fruits. Gregory's teaching resulted in over half the city converting to Catholicism. This, aided by Emperor Theodosius' decree that Arianism be abolished and all churches be given back to the true faith, solidly secured Constantinople as a Catholic city. With this accomplished, Gregory, noted for his brilliant writings in defending the true faith and theological brilliance on explaining the Trinity in his sermons, finally retired and settled in Asia Minor where he spent the remainder of his life in prayer, passing on peacefully in 391.

SUNDAY, January 3, 1998

FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

      The Feast of the Epiphany begins the new year of Sundays. Traditionally this feast was observed on January 6th each year but in recent times it was moved to the first Sunday following the Octave of Christmas. This feast commemorates the arrival of the magi, or wise men, or three kings, or astrologers Baltazar, Gaspar and Melchior. They were all those titles and more for they humbled themselves before the crib of the Divine Savior. Though so many accounts of the magi say they arrived immediately after the birth of Jesus Christ, in truth it was close to two years later when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, following the guiding Star that beckoned them from the East. This was prophesied in today's first reading from Isaiah 60:1-6. Talk about a mission. Here were three wealthy, influential figures who banded together in their quest. They realized it would be a long, arduous journey where their royalty would mean nothing on foreign soil as they endured desolate dessert and rugged mountain terrain through what is today Iraq. But they never gave up. They persevered to the end. That is a lesson we should all take to heart. No matter the course, stick to it for the sake of Jesus Christ. These men were wise not only because they were learned in the ways of the world, but more so because they adhered to the Will of God. Throughout their journey and then, when deceived by King Herod they sought the gifts of the Holy Spirit even though the Third Person of the Trinity was not known to them per se. St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, today's second reading speaks of the Spirit - "that mystery which in other ages was not known to the sons of men, as now it has been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (Eph 3:5). Though they were rulers, it was in their most subservient nature where they were most rewarded, adhering to the angel's warning not to return to King Herod. Oh, the evil one did all he could to stop the Messiah's mission, but through God's intervention, his nefarious plot was foiled. Yet, in his rampant lust for souls he possessed Herod so much that the king ordered the senseless slaughter of all first-born sons two years and younger. It became known as the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents celebrated annually on December 28th in the Church. This annihilation of innocent babies closely parallels today's abberations from the ghastly sin of abortion. The Magi's arrival was also a signal that the Messiah had come not just for God's Chosen People - the Jews - but also the Gentiles, of which these three kings were. This is confirmed also in the second reading when Paul says in verse 6 of the same chapter: "...the Gentiles are joint heirs, and fellow-members of the same body, and joint partakers of the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel." Their wisdom was more than temporal, it was eternal in their quest and in their foresight. Yes, they were ahead of their time but right in tune with God's time. Here were wealthy men giving their greatest gifts to this little child of a poor couple from Nazareth. They bequeathed gold, frankincense and myrh...all invaluable gifts in Judea where these commodities were non-existent. Most of us do not have worldly wealth like this to give, but we do have something even greater we can give to Jesus: ourselves, body and soul! If we truly do this without any strings attached, then we will not only exhibit the wisdom of the Magi but also be well on our way toward our Heavenly journey.

Monday, January 4, 1998

Feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious founder and educator

      Considered the first American-born saint, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, known as Mother Seton, went on to found numerous schools throughout the eastern seaboard. Born Elizabeth Ann Bayley on August 28, 1774 in New York City, she was raised an Episcopalian and married William Magee Seton at the age of 20. While raising five children, Elizabeth founded the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children when she was only 23. In 1803, having lost their income and becoming poor themselves, the family went to stay with Catholic friends in Pisa, Italy both for economic and health reasons. While there William died leaving Elizabeth a widow. Influenced by her Italian friends, she returned to New York in 1805 and converted to Catholicism. Though she was ostracized by her own family and friends, the director of St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore offered her the opportunity to open a school in that city. At the age of 35 she, along with four other widows, founded the Sisters of St. Joseph and began a Catholic school in Emmitsburg, Maryland exclusively for poor kids who could not afford tuition. The new nuns' rule was approved by Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore in 1812 and a year later, having been elected Mother Superior, Mother Seton took vows with eighteen others on July 19, 1813. It officially signaled the beginning of the Order of the Sisters of Charity in America, the first religious society formed in the United States and patterned after the rule of Saint Vincent de Paul. Mother Seton not only opened schools, training teachers herself, but also wrote most of the textbooks for the children. When she died on January 4, 1821 in Emmitsburg, there were already 20 communities and schools established. Pope John XXIII beatified her in 1963 and his successor Pope Paul VI canonized her in 1975 as the first American-born saint. Her legacy lives on. Founding the Catholic school concept she did signaled the advent of the Catholic parochial school system that would become the backbone of the Church in America until after Vatican II, when the new-age concept of "Total Catholic Education" spawned by satan himself, would not only infiltrate every diocese, but kill the long respected tradition of each parish and parent taking an active interest in the young Catholic leaders of tomorrow through their selfless time, talents, and treasures. In a time of great need, the sisters of every Order disappeared and the government began dictating what should and shouldn't be taught; the very reason Mother Seton began her schools in the first place, so that Catholicism would be at the root of any education. Ironically, loyal Catholics, when faced with today's alternatives have turned back to the very way Mother Seton herself was first educated - at home, through home schooling where the parents take total charge of their children as the Church teaches. Maybe it is no coincidence that the leader in Catholic home schooling today is called the Mother Seton Home Study!

PRAYER & DEVOTIONS

     For the special prayers during the time covered in this issue, please click on PRAYERS

Opening Prayer on December 29 honoring Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

Opening Prayer on December 31 honoring Pope Saint Sylvester I

Prayer after Communion on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1 honoring Our Lady

Opening Prayer on January 2 honoring Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

Opening Prayer and Special Prayer for Epiphany on January 3 for the Feast of Epiphany



Click here to go to SECTION FOUR or return to SECTION ONE or SECTION TWO or click here to return to the graphics front page of this issue.


December 29 - January 3, 1998 volume 9, no. 250   DAILY CATHOLIC