Martyrs of Korea (20th September): Ezra 1.1-6; Psalm 125; Luke 8.16-18
Father James Tsiou, a Chinese priest, entered Korea in 1794, the first Christian to come there as a missionary. He was met by 4000 Korean Christians, who had been brought to faith by lay teachers and by Christian books imported from China. Fr Tsiou was martyred by the Korean authorities in 1801. Three decades later, responding to a letter of request signed by Korean lay people and smuggled out of the country, Pope Leo XII established the Prefecture Apostolic of Korea. A small group of European priests worked in Korea during the 1830s; all of them were put to death by the Korean authorities. The first native priest, Father Andrew Kim Taegon, having been trained in Macau, returned to Korea in 1845 and was martyred the following year. A severe persecution began then, and Catholics fled to the mountains. Another persecution began in 1864, taking the lives of two bishops, six French missionaries, a Korean priest and some 8000 to 10,000 lay Korean Catholics. Korea has the fourth largest number of saints in the Catholic world.
At their canonisation in Seoul, Pope St John Paul II said, “The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land”.
St Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist (21st Sept): Ephesians 4.1-7,11-13; Ps 18; Matthew 9.9-13
Among Jesus’ twelve disciples several had connexions to the movement known as the Zealots, who believed that the Roman occupying force had to be driven out of Israel. Jesus called Matthew to discipleship from the receipt of custom [Matthew 9.9]—that is, from a life’s work of collaboration with the colonial power—illustrating Jesus’ intention to found a Church made up of all sorts and conditions of people. Further, Jesus by this choice showed his own profound lack of interest in political revolution.
Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c 60-130) claimed that Matthew wrote the first Gospel, in Hebrew. No trace of such a document remains. Most New Testament scholars today believe that Mark was the first evangelist, and that Matthew’s Gospel (probably not the work of the disciple Matthew) was based on Mark’s. (It is conceivable that Papias was referring to a work completely different from the Greek document we know as St Matthew’s Gospel.)
Both Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria record that Matthew preached to the Christian community in Judaea before continuing his mission further afield. We can’t say much with certainty about his life after the Ascension of Jesus. Tradition holds that he died a martyr.
Wednesday of Week 25 Per Annum (22nd Sept): Ezra 9.5-9; Tobit 13; Luke 9.1-6
Ezra describes himself as the son of Seraiah, the last priest of the Jerusalem Temple before its destruction by the Babylonians [Ezra 7.1] and as a close relative of Joshua, the first priest of the reconstructed Temple. [Ezra 3.2] He describes how he led a group of Judean captives in Babylon to return to Jerusalem [Ezra 8.2-14] where they re-established life in accord with the Torah. They discovered, though, that many of those left behind in Jerusalem at the time of the deportation [cf II Kings 25.22] had married Gentile wives [Ezra 9.2]; Ezra was appalled at this and resolved to restore Jerusalem to the Torah. He is considered the founder of the Great Assembly of scholars and prophets, the predecessor of the Sanhedrin; indeed he is sometimes accorded the title of Father of Judaism. It is entirely possible that Ezra’s efforts led to the compilation and editing of the first five books of the Bible.
St Pius of Pietrelcina (23rd September): Haggai 1.1-8; Psalm 149; Luke 9.7-9
Francesco Forgione (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio (from Pius, the name he took when he joined the Order of Friars Minor (Capuchins) at the age of 15), was born to a family of very devout peasant farmers in the village of Pietrelcina in Benevento in Campagnia. (A relic of Pope Pius I is preserved in Santa Anna Chapel in Pietrelcina, where Francesco was baptised; this is the reason he chose this religious name.) His father went to the United States in search of work so that he could pay for the education needed to qualify Francesco for the Capuchins.
During his seminary studies, Pio became violently ill with a succession of dyspepsia, insomnia and migraines. Around this time also, inexplicable phenomena began to occur, including episodes of ecstasy and levitation. Padre Pio moved to an agricultural community, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, in the Gargano Mountains in San Giovanni Rotondo in the Province of Foggia, where he remained for the rest of his life. He encouraged those who came to him for spiritual direction to “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.”
By 1911 he had become to experience redness in his hands and his feet; by 1918 he had received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his own body. He is the first priest known to have received this sign. During his lifetime he experienced much official scepticism, including from officials in the Vatican, but he quietly continued his ministry. His masses took hours to complete as he received mystical visions and excruciating suffering during the offering.
Our Lady of Walsingham (24th September): Haggai 1.15—2.9; Psalm 42; Luke 9.18-22
In 1061, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, received a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in which Our Lady showed her the house where the Annunciation had taken place and instructed her to build a replica of it on her property. She carried out the instruction assiduously, and by the 12th Century Walsingham was one of the four major shrines in Christendom, attracting a constant procession of pilgrims to England’s Nazareth. In 1538 during the dissolution of monasteries under King Henry VIII the shrine was destroyed. In 1895, however, a pious woman, Charlotte Boyde, a convert from Anglicanism, bought the Slipper Chapel, a medieval chapel where pilgrims shed their shoes before making the last mile of their pilgrimage barefoot. She had the chapel restored at her own expense, and in 1897 Pope Leo XIII blessed a new statue for the Slipper Chapel. Initially hundreds of pilgrims came to the restored shrine; by 1934 a pilgrimage of 10,000 Catholics marked its consecration as the National Catholic Shrine to Our Lady.
Meanwhile, in 1921 the Anglican vicar, Alfred Hope-Patten, had established, first in his parish church of St Mary and All Saints, and then in 1931 in a purpose-built shrine, an Anglican Marian shrine. Much later an Orthodox chapel was established within the shrine church. Today Walsingham is a lively shrine to which tens of thousands of pilgrims of all Christian Churches come annually to greet Our Lady in her Home, to receive help and healing, and to experience the peace and tranquillity of this holy place.
Saturday in Week 25 Per Annum (25th Sept): Zechariah 2.5-9,14-15; Jeremiah 31; Luke 9.43-45
The return of the captives from Babylonian exile, and the restoration of Jerusalem as a holy place, as the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people, was taken by the Biblical writers as not simply an historical event of singular significance but also as paradigmatic of the way God is constantly at work in his world. That the destruction of the holy city by pagan invaders and the captivity of its people were to be seen as God’s righteous punishment for their sins made those devastating events bearable: the punishment had an end. God had not cast his people away for ever. “Now I am going to save my people” God was heard to declare as once again he cast down the mighty from their thrones and raised up the humble and meek.