On the feast of St. Joseph the worker, we pray…
Intention: We pray for all fathers, that through the example of St. Joseph, they may fully embrace their vocation and accept the privilege and responsibility of caring for their children as St. Joseph cared for Jesus.
Reflection: On Wednesday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Guardian of the Redeemer,” John Paul II referred to St. Joseph as “the guardian and cooperator in the providential mystery of God (no 14).” He explained that together with Mary, Joseph was the first guardian of Christ: “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood (no 8).”
It is interesting to note that St. Joseph’s fatherhood and specific role in the plan of salvation would not have been possible apart from his marriage to Mary: “Joseph’s fatherhood – a relationship that places him as close as possible to Christ…comes to pass through marriage to Mary, that is, through the family (no 7).” Let us pray that every husband and wife will be brought closer to Christ through their marriage to one another.
A further reflection on St. Joseph’s participation in the plan of salvation can be found here.
Did You Know? Pope Francis has a deep devotion to St. Joseph. Last year, he chose the Solemnity of St. Joseph as the date for his inaugural Mass. A sign of Pope Francis’ devotion to this Saint can be seen on his coat of arms. Next to the star representing Mary is the spikenard flower, which is often used to represent St. Joseph.
Among Saint Joseph’s many titles such as “mirror of patience”, “lover of poverty”, “terror of demons”, “pillar of families”, a particularly interesting one is “the guardian of the mystery of God.” In his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II emphasized the importance of this title and the role St. Joseph was given to play in God’s plan of salvation.
Joseph was one of the first to share in the mystery of the Incarnation with Mary. This “sharing” was in a real way an actual participation in Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation. In taking Mary as his wife instead of divorcing her, “what Joseph did united him in an altogether special way to the faith of Mary. He accepted as truth coming from God the very thing that she had already accepted at the Annunciation (no 4).” Mary and Joseph were one in their desire to follow the Will of God. In a particular way, Joseph silently and courageously took upon himself the many sufferings that Jesus and Mary would bear over the years. Whether by accepting the mysterious nature of Mary’s pregnancy, making the long journey to Bethlehem with no place to stay, and later escaping into Egypt to save Jesus’ life, Joseph fully embraced the supreme honor and responsibility of caring for Mary and Jesus.
It is important to note that Joseph’s fatherhood is tied to his marriage with Mary. In fact, “Joseph’s marriage to Mary is the juridical basis of his fatherhood (no 7).” God chose to have His only Son enter the world in a family. In the beginning of the Old Testament, we are told of a married couple, Adam and Eve, through whom “the source of evil was unleashed on the world (no 7).” It seems fitting therefore, that God would desire to bring salvation to the world through the marriage of Mary and Joseph. In this way, “the savior began the work of salvation by this virginal and holy union, wherein is manifested his all-powerful will to purify and sanctify the family – that sanctuary of love and cradle of life (no 7).”
Through Christ’s being born into and growing up in a family, we see the importance placed upon marriage and the family within salvation history. Each family today is given the opportunity to imitate the Holy Family and therefore participate in salvation history in a distinct way. Each family is a “domestic Church” where, as Pope Francis explained, “we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children (Evangelii Gaudium, no 66).” Each family is also given the opportunity to ask St. Joseph to guard and protect them as he guarded and protected Mary and Jesus. Let us never hesitate to ask this powerful saint to intercede on behalf of our families. St. Joseph, pray for us!
March 19, 2014
In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI gave a conference at a General Audience on Saint Bridget of Sweden, because “this holy woman has much to teach the Church and the world.” A married woman, she reflected sanctity in her domestic life. Forming families is something that can truly make us holy.
Pope Benedict XVI: “We can distinguished two periods in this Saint’s life.
“The first was characterized by her happily married state. Her husband was called Ulf and he was Governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted for 28 years, until Ulf’s death. Eight children were born, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as a Saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget’s dedication to her children’s education. Moreover, King Magnus of Sweden so appreciated her pedagogical wisdom that he summoned her to Court for a time, so that she could introduce his young wife, Blanche of Namur, to Swedish culture. Bridget, who was given spiritual guidance by a learned religious who initiated her into the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her family which, thanks to her presence, became a true “domestic church”. Together with her husband she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She generously practiced works of charity for the poor; she also founded a hospital. At his wife’s side Ulf’s character improved and he advanced in the Christian life. On their return from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which they made in 1341 with other members of the family, the couple developed a project of living in continence; but a little while later, in the tranquility of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf’s earthly life ended. This first period of Bridget’s life helps us to appreciate what today we could describe as an authentic “conjugal spirituality”: together, Christian spouses can make a journey of holiness sustained by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. It is often the woman, as happened in the life of St Bridget and Ulf, who with her religious sensitivity, delicacy and gentleness succeeds in persuading her husband to follow a path of faith. I am thinking with gratitude of the many women who, day after day, illuminate their families with their witness of Christian life, in our time too. May the Lord’s Spirit still inspire holiness in Christian spouses today, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived in accordance with the Gospel values: love, tenderness, reciprocal help, fruitfulness in begetting and in raising children, openness and solidarity to the world and participation in the life of the Church.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, October 27, 2010 (emphasis added)
Today is the feast day of St. Joachim and St. Anne, the married couple traditionally honored as the parents of Mary, which makes them the grandparents of Jesus.
Grandparents and the Incarnation
How wonderful that Jesus has grandparents! St. Joachim and St. Anne remind us of the mystery of the Incarnation: God truly became man and entered into a human family that included not only his mother Mary and father Joseph but their parents, and their parents, and their parents, all the way back to Adam (and Eve) at the dawn of creation, according to St. Luke’s chronology (Luke 3:23-38). Like all of us, Jesus was born into a web of relationships, the “cradle of life and love” that is the family (John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, no. 40).
The burden of infertility
However, becoming grandparents – or even parents – must have seemed like a far-off dream for much of Joachim and Anne’s married life. Tradition holds that these saints struggled with infertility and were childless for decades. Like other barren couples in Scripture (eg. Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah), sterility was a great burden to Joachim and Anne and even a hindrance to their participation in community life. A story told of St. Joachim relates that he wanted to offer sacrifice in the temple but was turned away because of his childlessness. He retreated into the mountains to air his grievance with God, and during this time both he and his wife received an angelic prophecy of Anne’s pregnancy. We can picture her thanking God in the same words used by Hannah when she became a mother:
“My heart exults in the Lord,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.
. . .
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.”
– 1 Samuel 2: 1, 5
Their steadfast faith during the trial of infertility explains why they are often invoked by married couples struggling to conceive a child.
A model for parents
Tradition depicts St. Joachim and St. Anne as loving and dedicated parents to their daughter, Mary. Artwork often shows Mary on her mother’s lap, learning how to read. It is no stretch to imagine that St. Joachim and St. Anne laid the groundwork for Mary’s faith, preparing her to answer one day to the angel Gabriel “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word.”
A model for marriage
Finally, St. Joachim and St. Anne are a particularly special married couple for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason project, seeing how they are the couple featured in the Marriage: Unique for a Reason logo and artwork. As the website says:
Saints Joachim and Anne are the father and mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the fruit of their marriage. By a singular grace of God in view of the merits of Jesus, she was preserved from all stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Thus it is in the context of married life and conjugal love that Mary is prepared to receive the Divine Logos, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the Logos, the “Reason” at the heart of all reason and truth, including the truth of marriage. The marriage between Joachim and Anne is a significant witness to why marriage is “unique for a reason.”
St. Joachim and St. Anne are the patron saints of grandparents and infertile couples.
St. Joachim and St. Anne, pray for us!
- Novena to St. Joachim and St. Anne from the USCCB: “Saints Anne and Joachim are powerful intercessors for all married couples, expectant mothers and married couples who are having difficulty conceiving, as well as all who have grown old.”
- Novena to St. Ann from EWTN
- Prayer to St. Joachim from About.com (Catholicism)
England has no lack of married saints, or saints that were martyred for defending religious liberty. Earlier, we profiled St. Philip Howard, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. And today, on the second day of the Fortnight for Freedom, we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More, husband, father, and martyr under King Henry VIII in 1535. (Today is also the feast day of St. John Fisher, a bishop also martyred in 1535, but here we confine ourselves to married saints.)
- Born February 7, 1478, in London
- Married Jane Colt in 1505; she died in 1511
- Married Alice Middleton in 1511
- Father of four children
- Imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534
- Executed by beheading on July 6, 1535
- Canonized May 19, 1935 by Pius XI
The Fortnight for Freedom began yesterday, on the vigil of today’s feast day of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. The timing is intentional. Both men faced suffering, imprisonment, and ultimately death because of their allegiance to their faith.
The contours of St. Thomas More’s life are familiar to many, thanks in large part to the 1966 movie A Man for All Seasons. Born into a well situated family, St. Thomas was educated at Oxford University and, after a period of discerning the religious life, became a lawyer and married Jane Colt, daughter of a country nobleman. The two lived an exceptionally happy marriage and welcomed four children into their family, but their life together on earth was cut short with Jane’s death at the age of twenty-two. For the sake of the children, St. Thomas remarried quickly and his new wife, Alice Middleton, proved to be a more than capable stepmother and household manager. St. Thomas grew to love Alice as well, and in his epitaph wrote, “This one [Jane] so lived with me, and the other one [Alice] now so liveth, that it is doubtful whether this or the other were dearer to me” (as quoted by Ferdinand Holbock in Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries, 323).
Difficulties began to besiege St. Thomas in 1522. The current ruler of England, King Henry VIII, was seeking to annul his marriage with his wife Catherine and marry a lady-in-waiting by the name of Anne Boleyn. Catherine, the widow of King Henry’s brother, had borne a number of children, but each died at birth or shortly thereafter, with the exception of Princess Mary. Seeking an heir to the throne, King Henry petitioned Rome in vain to grant him an annulment.
Enter Thomas More. As a well-respected lawyer, St. Thomas was asked by the King for counsel in the “Great Matter” of his desire for an annulment. After reflection and consultation, St. Thomas replied that his opinion was with the pope – the marriage was valid and could not be annulled. This was not the answer King Henry was hoping to hear. And yet not long after, the King appointed St. Thomas to the weighty position of Lord Chancellor, promising him that his conscience in the matter of the marriage would be respected.
Unfortunately for St. Thomas, his stance became a very lonely one, and the King’s promise of protection began to seem very thin. In short order, leading English lords petitioned Rome to change its decision on the marriage; the bishops (save St. John Fisher) officially broke with Rome; Archbishop Cranmer declared the King’s marriage to Catherine annulled; and in 1533 King Henry’s new bride Anne Boleyn was declared Queen of England. St. Thomas declined to attend the coronation.
Finally, events came to a head for St. Thomas. In March 1534 a law was passed that declared potential heirs only the offspring of King Henry and his new wife Anne. The law also declared the King’s marriage to Catherine invalid and blatantly rejected papal authority. All citizens of England – including Thomas More – were obliged to assent to the so-called Succession Oath. On April 13, St. Thomas appeared before the archbishop of Canterbury and refused to take the oath, saying that he could not swear to it without imperiling his eternal soul. The former lord chancellor of England was then thrown into the Tower of London.
There St. Thomas languished, besieged by constant visitors trying to elicit a treasonous statement against the King of England, now declared the head of the newly formed Church of England. All attempts were unsuccessful. Finally, on the basis of false testimony from one Master Rich, St. Thomas was convicted guilty and sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. King Henry altered this punishment to beheading, and on July 6, 1535, St. Thomas More was martyred.
A faithful husband and father, and a faithful witness to the indissolubility of marriage against immense political pressure, St. Thomas stands as a model for husbands, fathers, lawyers, and all those seeking to preserve the precious right of religious liberty.
Prayer Resource: St. Thomas More holy card from Fortnight for Freedom
Patron of: lawyers, politicians
St. Thomas More, pray for us!
Today the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a 20th century wife, mother, and doctor who sacrificed her life for the sake of her unborn daughter. St. Gianna, pray for us!
- Born October 4, 1922 near Milan, Italy
- Married Pietro Molla on September 24, 1955
- Mother of six children (including two lost before birth): Pierluigi, Mariolina, Laura and Gianna Emanuela
- Died April 28, 1962 in Ponte Nuovo di Magenta, Italy
- Beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994
- Canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 2004
Read St. Gianna’s biography (on the Vatican website).
- A model of discernment: After earning her medical degree in 1949, St. Gianna actively discerned whether God was calling her to join two of her brothers in the mission fields of Brazil, or to marry Pietro Molla, an engineer and fellow member in the charitable group Catholic Action. Gianna sought God’s will in prayer and spiritual direction and eventually, during a pilgrimage to Lourdes on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, it became clear that her vocational call was to marriage and the family. Pietro and Gianna were engaged on Easter Sunday of 1955 and married that September.
- A heroic witness to life: After being blessed with three children (and suffering two miscarriages), St. Gianna was again with child in 1961. Early in the pregnancy, a dangerous cyst was discovered on her uterus. Choosing the route of treatment least dangerous to her unborn child, Gianna underwent a risky and painful surgery to remove the cyst. Thankfully the baby was unharmed, and the pregnancy continued. When it came time for her to give birth, Gianna said to the delivering doctor, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child.” Little Gianna Emanuela was born on April 21, 1962. A week later, her heroic and self-sacrificing mother died at home after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.”
- “Love is the most beautiful sentiment the Lord has put into the soul of men and women.” – St. Gianna, in a letter to her future husband a few days before their wedding (as quoted in Bl. John Paul II’s homily at her canonization mass)
- “Gianna Beretta Molla was a simple, but more than ever, significant messenger of divine love…Following the example of Christ, who ‘having loved his own…loved them to the end‘ (Jn. 13:1), this holy mother of a family remained heroically faithful to the commitment she made on the day of her marriage. The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.” – Bl. John Paul II, homily at St. Gianna’s canonization mass
- “A young mother from the diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation.” – Pope Paul VI, Angelus, September 23, 1973 (quoted in the Vatican biography; original in Italian)
- “All my mother’s life has been a hymn to life, to joy, to God’s love, to Our Lady, to her family, to her very near, to her beloved husband, my daddy, her beloved children and her dear patients.” – Gianna Emanuela, St. Gianna’s daughter, in a 2011 interview
Patron saint of mothers, physicians, preborn children
Pray: Litany of St. Gianna Beretta Molla
Who are the saints featured in the Marriage: Unique for a Reason logo…and why were they chosen? Let us explain:
Saints Joachim and Anne are the father and mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the fruit of their marriage. By a singular grace of God in view of the merits of Jesus, she was preserved from all stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Thus it is in the context of married life and conjugal love that Mary is prepared to receive the Divine Logos, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus is the Logos, the “Reason” at the heart of all reason and truth, including the truth of marriage. The marriage between Joachim and Anne is a significant witness to why marriage is “unique for a reason” (from the home page, emphasis added).
St. Joachim and St. Anne provide for us an example of holiness (see CCC, no. 2030) and as a married couple, they provide in a particular way an example of holiness as a married couple. The portion of the mosaic featured at the top of the website brings out the beauty of marriage’s unity, depicted here as the intimate face-to-face encounter between husband and wife. And in the larger version of the mosaic found on the old USCCB defense of marriage site, the river that streams behind St. Joachim and St. Anne recalls their fruitfulness, the life-giving love that took form in their daughter Mary, the mother of our Redeemer.
St. Joachim and St. Anne serve as inspiring models of a holy marriage and as the informal “patron saints” of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative. We ask for their intercession in the defense of marriage prayer: Sts. Joachim and Anne, pray for us!
Today the Church honors St. Frances of Rome, an Italian married woman who lived an exemplary life as a wife and mother during difficult times of plague and war. She serves as a model for all married women who strive to integrate their devotion to God with their vocation as a wife and mother.
- Born in 1384 in Rome
- Married Lorenzo dei Ponziani in 1396
- Mother of six children
- Died March 9, 1440
- Canonized May 29, 1608
Read the story of St. Frances of Rome in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
St. Frances’ sufferings:
- Five out of her six children did not survive childhood. Two died during the plague of 1410.
- During a war between the Papal States and Naples, her surviving child, Battista, was taken hostage, and her husband suffered a serious stab wound. Also during this war, St. Frances’ husband’s ancestral palace burnt to the ground.
- Her son Battista married an arrogant woman who deliberately insulted and offended her mother-in-law. St. Frances eventually won her over through patience and humility.
- Despite her high birth, St. Frances dressed simply and modestly. She was known to travel the streets of Rome in shabby attire, collecting alms and firewood for the poor.
- Stories relate that St. Frances enjoyed mystical experiences, in which she would talk with Jesus, Mary, and her own guardian angel.
- In her later years, St. Frances formed a community of Roman women who cared for the poor, sick, and homeless of Rome.
- A church in the Roman Forum section of Rome is dedicated to St. Frances: Santa Francesca Romana. Relics of the saint are housed here.
- “A married woman must leave all her devotions when the household demands it.” – St. Frances
- “She did not cease to be mindful of the things of God during her marriage, so that she pleased God in her husband and her husband in God.” – from the prayer book of the community founded by St. Frances
Patron saint of those who lose a child to death, people ridiculed for their piety, lay people, and taxi drivers. (About the latter – while St. Frances never even saw a car, legend says that when she walked the streets of Rome at night, her guardian angel went before her, lighting the roads and keeping her safe.)
St. Frances of Rome, wife and mother, pray for us!
- Born June 28, 1557, in London
- Died October 19, 1595, in the Tower of London
- Canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI
- Father of one son
- Patron of betrayal victims and separated spouses
An image of St. Philip Howard.
In 1970, St. Philip Howard was named by Pope Paul VI one of the “Forty Martyrs of Wales and England.” Yet as with many martyrs, St. Philip’s early life was little indication of the supreme honor he would one day receive, dying for the sake of Christ.
Philip Howard was born in 1557 in an England that was still reeling from King Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England. During Philip’s childhood, “Bloody” Queen Mary was on the throne, a Catholic ruler who rejected the Church of England. Accordingly, Philip was baptized as a Catholic by the archbishop of York. He later pursued his education at Cambridge.
However, times were soon to change. Queen Elizabeth I succeeded Queen Mary, and the country once again became Protestant; more than that, Catholicism was strictly forbidden. As with so many Englishmen at the time, Philip’s father took the family with him back into the Church of England. Change was also happening in Philip’s home: his father remarried a woman with three daughters. At the young age of 14, St. Philip was given in marriage to one of these daughters, Anne; his other two brothers married the other two daughters.
St. Philip’s early years as a husband were none too pious. Climbing the career ladder was forefront in his mind, while family and faith fell by the wayside. His young wife, Anne, stayed admirably devoted to her inattentive and often moody husband, even as he spent more and more time at the Queen’s court, seeking to build his prestige and affluence. And yet it was here at Court that the seeds were sown for Philip’s later years of discipleship.
At the Queen’s court one day, Philip witnessed a theological debate between Anglican theologians and the Jesuit priest St. Edmund Campion. (St. Edmund would be martyred as a result of this dispute.) The words of St. Edmund took three years to penetrate Philip’s heart and mind, but when they did, he was solidly convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith. His conversion led him to devote more time to his wife and to prayer, and to generally amend his life. But it also caught the attention of the Queen who, recall, had outlawed Catholicism. After Philip wrote Her Majesty a letter – with feeling! – about his newfound faith, she had him thrown into the Tower of London.
In the Tower, Philip suffered all of the usual indignities. Confined to a small, unappealing space, and forbidden from seeing his wife or his newborn son, Philip suffered patiently, often repeating Jesus’ words from the Cross “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Finally, on October 19, 1595, 38-year-old Philip took leave of this life to receive the crown of a martyr. He left his last testament on the wall of his cell, as if to remove any doubt about why and for whom he died: Quanto plus afflictions pro Christo in hoc saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro (“The more afflictions we bear for Christ in this world, the more glory we attain with Christ in the world to come.”)
St. Philip Howard, husband and martyr, pray for those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus and their love of His Church. Give strength especially to those husbands and wives who are separated from each other under difficult circumstances. Pray in a particular way for the faithful of England, that they may stay rooted in the love of Christ.
St. Philip Howard, pray for us!