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FRIDAY, January 2, 1998

Feast of Saints Basil and Saints Gregory

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.

SATURDAY, January 3, 1998

SUNDAY, January 4, 1998


     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 5, 1998

SAINT JOHN NEUMANN, Bishop, Missionary Religious, and Educator

     The practice of Forty Hours Devotion in the United States can be attributed to a Czechoslovakian in the nineteenth century who came to our shores to become a Redemptorist priest and foster Catholic schools and education throughout the U.S.A. This man was Saint John Neumann, born on March 28, 1811 and ordained in 1936. In 1852 he was appointed bishop of Philadelphia where he worked tirelessy to establish the Catholic school system in America. He labored especially with European immigrants in mind. He spoke twelve languages fluently and wrote numerous books and two catechisms as well as a Bible History for the students. His was a life of firsts, becoming the first Redemptorist to make his profession in America and the first bishop from America to be ordained a saint. He died on January 5, 1860 just as the Civil War was breaking out, but he was not forgotten and his legacy has served many a college student through the years with almost each college campus throughout the country providing a Catholic oasis for the students known as "Neumann clubs." He was ordained in 1977 by Pope Paul VI.

January 1998