My Favorite Saints: St. Stephen

200px-st-stephenJesus told his disciples that if they followed Him, the world would hate them because they hated him first. And yet the first disciple to die after his death was not one of the original Twelve, but Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church.

At the time the new faith began, Christians did not refer to themselves as Christians. That was originally a pejorative term created by Romans. At that time, Christians referred to their religion as “The Way”, in reference to Jesus calling himself “The Way, the Truth, and The Life.”

Stephen was one of seven deacons appointed to distribute food and aid to members of the community. He was the eldest, and was called archdeacon.  At the time, Christians were considered heretics to the Jewish faith, as Jesus himself was crucified for claiming to be God.

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My Favorite Saints: Pope John Paul II

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“Every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him.”–Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem

This year marks the canonization of Pope John Paul II. He was born in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920, and died in 2007. His birth name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla. He was my pope for most of my life. Like many of my generation, I remember his charisma and his presence in the media.

Karol was the youngest of three children. His mother died in 1929, when he turned 8.  His eldest sister, Olga, died before he was even born. He was closest to his older brother Edmund, despite their thirteen years difference.  Edmund died of scarlet fever, a loss that wounded Karol.

One of Karol’s passions, even in his youth, was soccer.  While in high school, he played as goalkeeper and fell in love with a Jewish girl named Ginka.

In 1938, his father moved to Krakow, where Karol enrolled at the Jagcellonin University. Although he took military training as part of his instruction, he never fired a weapon.  While at the university, he learned twelve languages, nine of which he used as pope.

In 1939, the Nazis closed down the university during their invasion of Poland.  He began to work in order to avoid deportation to Germany.  He received an injury while working in construction that fractured his skull; while another injury left him in a permanent stoop. He lost his father to a heart attack a year later. Then in 1942, he began his pursuit of the priesthood, becoming a priest in 1946. He slowly moved up in rank. In 1978, He presided as cardinal at Vatican II.  He was ordained pope in 1978. He was the most travelled pontiff so far, and served the second-longest tenure in the role.

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My Favorite Saints: St. Francis of Assisi

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If there is one saint I would love to meet in Heaven who was not one of the original Twelve Apostles, it would definitely be St. Francis of Assisi. (1181?-1226)He’s one of the most venerated figures in Catholicism. He’s the co-patron of Italy and animals.

Francis was one of seven children born to a silk merchant named Pietro di Bernardone. Despite his wealth, Francis felt unsatisfied. He felt called to a vow of poverty and left it all behind. His father, however, did not accept this choice and threatened him with beatings. He responded by renouncing his position in society. He even gave up his clothes. He gave it all up to found a new monastic order called the Franciscans, who still operate to this day.

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My Favorite Saints: St. Patrick

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Every March 17th, many cities and churches celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  Celebrants wear green, parades are held, and bars often serve green-colored beer.  Shamrocks are often seen decorating people’s houses or clothes. But who was this St. Patrick? Why is he such a beloved figure?

Patrick was actually originally from Great Britain.  He was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken into slavery.  After six years, he escaped and returned home, only to return to Ireland as a missionary.  He was not protected by the rulers of Ireland and was even beaten and robbed on one occasion. And yet this did not deter his mission.

There are many legends associated with Patrick.  One attributes the fact that Ireland doesn’t have snakes to him “driving them all out”. In reality, snakes have never even lived in Ireland, even before Patrick began his mission.

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My Favorite Saints: St. Thomas Aquinas

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When I went to college at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, there was a Catholic church on campus named after St. Thomas Aquinas. I wanted to know just why this particular saint was chosen. I decided to read up on him and I found that this man was an eloquent writer. It’s fitting that a college campus would name a church after him, as his most well-known writing, the Summa Theologica, has a scholarly feel to it.
St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 to a wealthy family. Yet like many saints born from a wealthy family, he would eventually disparage his station and gave it all up for God. He wanted to learn as much about God as possible, after having learned about the philosophy of Aristotle in Naples. His studies led him to become a monk and later to his writings.

St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica was written in a question/answer format and dealt with many topics that are still explored today. My personal favorite is the Five Proofs for God’s Existence, which I will illustrate below.

  1. The Argument from Motion

Every movement cannot occur on its own. It needs a force to act upon it. However, in order for all movement to occur, a force that does not require movement must exist. That force is what Aquinas dubbed the “prime mover”, which is God.

2. The Argument from Efficient Causes

Nothing exists prior to itself. In other words, an effect cannot exist without a cause. Every cause has an effect, and that effect becomes a cause for the next effect in sequence, like a chain reaction. For the theory of cause and effect to be feasible, there must be a cause that existed without a cause. God is that “uncaused cause.”

3. The Argument from Possibility and Necessity

This argument ties directly into the second argument. Every finite being can only exist within a specific time and place. However, a finite being implies that there are beings that are infinite. That infinite being is God, who exists outside of time.

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My Favorite Saints: Mary Magdalene

This time in my latest installment of My Favorite Saints, I am spotlighting Mary Magdalene, a woman who was one of Jesus’s disciples. There is much misinformation about her. The most common of these is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers. This was mostly speculated by the Gnostics, who relied very little on the actual Bible, but it is still perpetuated today, as evidenced by the works of Dan Brown. There is also speculation that she was a prostitute.
Mary Magdalene is first mentioned in Luke 7:37-50 as the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet. We also know that she had seven demons possessing her (Luke 8:2). We also know that she is the first woman to see Jesus after his resurrection(Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49).
Mary Magdalene is often considered “The Apostle of the Apostles”. Women were second class citizens in Jesus’s time. However, Jesus did not concern himself over the status of anyone who needed his help. The Pharisees even accused him of being a drunkard.
I find Mary an inspiring figure in the Bible. She exists to show us that we must not discriminate when spreading the word of God. We must share it with anyone, even those who are shunned by society. If indeed Mary Magdalene was a harlot, she would be scorned. That Jesus sees past these accusations and only sees a woman who needs his help shows that we must also adopt the same attitude.

My Favorite Saints: Saint Paul

Note: I am now continuing my Saint of the Month series, however it will not always be monthly. For this reason, I am now calling it My Favorite Saints instead.

The Acts of the Apostles introduces an apostle who was once an enemy of the Christians.  We know him today as St. Paul.

St. Paul was originally named Saul of Tarsus.  Under this name, he was present when the church’s first official martyr, St. Stephen, was stoned to death.  This incident inspired him to persecute anyone who followed the Way (which is what Christianity was called at the time. ) Yet, Jesus sought after him and confronted him (Acts 9:1-9), blinding him in the process. He eventually converted after being assisted by a member of the apostles’ community, and earned a new name, Paul.

When a biblical figure changes status, there is often a change in name as well.  Abram became Abraham after he decided to follow God, and his wife Sara became Sarah as well.  In the new testament, Simon became St. Peter when Jesus gave him the new position as the leader of the apostles prior to his crucifixion.  This also made him the first pope.

I think what I really like about St. Paul is his eloquent approach to evangelism.  What follows are some of my favorite quotes from his epistles.

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophesy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tounges, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13)

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:10)

and finally:

I died to the law so that I might live for God. (Galatians 2:19)