Saint John Bosco, Priest

Monday 31 January 2022

2 Samuel 15:13-14,30,16:5-13; Psalm 3:2-8; Mark 5:1-20

The Gospel today is 'The Gadarene Swine" one of the many times in which we see Jesus delivering an unfortunate soul from he grip of evil spirits. A Legion was 6000 solders - so we see the poor man was overwhelmed by the invasion of his soul. The deliverance takes place in gentile land and the man healed was a gentile (he uses a Gentile name for God - 'Most High Lord', differing from the 'Son of God' that is used elsewhere and is a name full of meaning to Jews.) An important diversion of Jesus in Marks' Gospel which in all other respects deals only with those of the Jewish faith. The healed man was, notice, not allowed to follow Jesus. The time has not yet come for the message of salvation to reach the gentiles.

The legion of spirits end up in a herd of pigs, who then drown themselves in the Sea. The likely location of this event is at least 7 miles from the sea and possibly 20 miles - both ridiculously long distances for a pig to run, so one can assume this aspect is a literary flourish: although no pigs were harmed in the making of this story, no one at that time would have worried anyhow, as a Pig was as low - possibly lower - than we might regard a sewer rat in our day. The point of the story being that Jesus's disposal of the spirits was complete, and total, and irreversible.

St John Bosco

He was born in Piedmont of a peasant family, and he was brought up by his widowed mother. He became a priest, and his particular concern was for the young. He settled in Turin, where, as in so many cities in the 19th century, the industrial revolution was bringing enormous movements of population and consequent social problems, especially for the young men who came there to work. John Bosco devoted himself to the care of the young, first of all by means of evening classes, to which hundreds came, and then by setting up a boarding-house for apprentices, and then workshops for their training and education. Despite many difficulties, caused both by the anti-clerical civil authorities and by the opposition of some senior people within the Church, his enterprise grew, and by 1868 over 800 boys and young men were under his care. To ensure the continuation of his work, he founded a congregation, which he named after St Francis de Sales (a saint for whom he had great admiration), and today the Salesians continue his work all over the world.

St Alban Roe

He was born in East Anglia of Church of England parents as Bartholomew Roe, July 20, 1583. He studied for a time at Cambridge where he first met a number of Catholics and began to have doubts about the faith in which he had been brought up. For some time he wrestled with his doubts until it became clear to him that he was in conscience bound to become a Catholic. He studied first of all at Douai but after a year he was sent back to England, on the grounds that he had disturbed the peace and order of the College (he was apparently an ebullient character, a characteristic which stayed with him all his life). Having left he was accepted into the Benedictine community at Dieulouard (from which the monastery at Ampleforth is descended), was professed as Bro Alban in 1614, and was ordained priest a year later. Very soon he was sent to England. After working for three years as a priest in London he was arrested and taken to the Fleet prison. He spent three years in the Fleet when the Spanish ambassador obtained his release, conditional on his leaving the country for good. However he soon returned, spent a further three years working in London, was again arrested and was this time first imprisoned in St Alban’s (a particularly harsh prison) and then transferred to the Fleet where he stayed for many years. In 1641 he was transferred to Newgate to face trial, when he was found guilty of treason. On 21 January 1642 he died on the scaffold, being allowed to hang until he was dead. According to a contemporary source, in his death he showed “joy, contentment, constancy, fortitude and valour”. The feast is on 31 January according to the modern Gregorian calendar, already in use on the Continent: this corresponds to 21 January in the previous Julian calendar, which England was still using at that time.

Saturday of Week 3 Per Annum (29th January): II Samuel 12.1-7,10-17; Psalm 50; Mark 4.35-41

St Mark’s style of writing is breathless, impetuous. Events crowd upon one another relentlessly; his favourite word is immediately. In 3.13 he summons 12 disciples to follow him, and once appointed there is no rest for any of them. Such crowds followed them that ‘they could not even have a meal.’ [3.20] Relatives of his ‘set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind.’ [3.21] He disputes with scribes from Jerusalem [3.22-30]; he teaches in parables. [4.1-34] Finally ‘with the coming of evening that same day’ [4.35] he and his disciples board a boat to cross Lake Galilee. A storm breaks out, but he sleeps through it, ‘his head on a cushion.’ [4.38] When the disciples awake him he asks ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ [4.40] At the end of a tumultuous day, not so different, perhaps, from many of our own days, his question at once challenges them—and us—and invites us to find rest in the conviction that ‘even the wind and the sea’ obey his voice.

St Thomas Aquinas (28th January): II Samuel 11.1-10,13-17; Psalm 50; Mark 4.26-34

Thomas (c1225-1274) was most likely born in the castle of Roccasecca, near Aquino. His family were people of means and his Uncle was Abbot of Monte Cassino, the oldest Benedictine monastery. Thomas was expected to succeed his uncle as Abbot.

He was enrolled in the University in Naples, where he came under the influence of the Dominican John of St Julian. Thomas determined to join the Dominicans, but his brothers seized him and brought him to his parents’ castle where he was held as a virtual prisoner for nearly a year, until, realising that they were unable to dissuade him, his mother allowed him to escape through a window. He joined the Dominicans and was sent to the University of Paris in 1245 to study with Albertus Magnus. The remainder of his life was divided between Paris and Italy, studying, lecturing and writing, until his early death at the age of 49.

Thomas combined an astonishing intellectual acumen with a profound holiness of life. His greatest work, the Summa Theologica, is a compendium of the theological teachings of the Catholic Church, intended as an instructional guide for students, lay and clergy alike. He never completed it. On 6th December 1273 (the feast of St Nicholas) he experienced a profound mystical vision after which he refused to dictate anything further to his scribes. ‘Compared to what I have seen,’ he declared, ‘all I have written is no more than a bundle of straw.’ He was riding to the Council of Lyons in February of 1274 when he struck his head on the branch of a tree. He never recovered from this injury and died on 7th March 1274. He was declared a Doctor (teacher) of the Church by Pope Pius V in 1567, just after the Council of Trent.

St Angela Merici (27th January): II Samuel 7.18-19,24-29; Psalm 131; Mark 4.21-25

Angela Merici (1474-1540) was born in Lombardy, near Lake Garda. Orphaned as a child she became a Franciscan tertiary and devoted herself with several companions to the education of poor girls. Whilst on a pilgrimage to the holy lands in 1524 she was suddenly stricken blind on the isle of Crete. She continued on her way to the Holy Land and returning through Crete she was cured of her blindness.

In 1535 Angela and 12 companions committed themselves to founding the Company of
St Ursula, dedicated to elevating Christian family life through the education of wives and mothers. They wore no special habit and did not take religious vows. Later St Angela wrote a rule for the order and she was elected its Mother and Mistress. The Ursulines were only accepted as a Congregation in 1565, after her death.

St Timothy & St Titus (26th January): II Timothy 1.1-8; Psalm 95; Mark 4.1-20

These two companions and co-workers of Paul are commemorated on this day following Paul’s own feast. Two letters of Paul in the New Testament are addressed to Timothy and one to Titus. Timothy, who is believed to have died in 97, accompanied Paul on many of his journeys [Acts 16.1-3] and his name appears as co-author of a number of Paul’s epistles:
II Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians and Philemon. Eventually he was appointed Bishop of Ephesus. According to tradition, he was beaten to death by a mob when he opposed the worship of Dionysus.

St Titus, who is believed to have died around the year 96, is traditionally considered the first Bishop of Crete. [Titus 1.5]

Conversion of St Paul (25th January): Acts 22.3-16; Psalm 116; Mark 16.15-18

This feast commemorates the call of St Paul to be an Apostle of the Christ and his Way that he had once thought inimical to the covenant of God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that ‘the Risen One spoke to Paul, called him to the apostolate and made him a true Apostle, a witness of the Resurrection, with the specific task of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles, to the Graeco-Roman world.’

Like the disciples who accompanied Jesus in his earthly life, Paul was a faithful Jew, for whom ‘conversion’ meant coming to see Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah of God. For him Christian life was the completion of the life he had known as a faithful son of the covenant.

Paul’s missionary work brought Christianity to Europe and, ultimately, to each of us. His theological conviction that God calls both Jews and Gentiles into covenant with him has made the Gospel accessible to those of us who are not the physical descendants of Abraham.

St Francis de Sales (24th January): II Samuel 5.1-7,10; Psalm 88; Mark 3.22-30

Francis (1567-1622) was born into one of the most important noble families of the Duchy of Savoy. He was brought up with the expectation that he would become a magistrate and was taught the ‘gentlemanly’ pursuits of riding, dancing and fencing. A theological conversation when he was 19 convinced him that he was damned to hell. After a period of despair and physical illness he made his way to the parish of Saint Etienne in Paris and there before a statue of Our Lady he prayed the Memorare and dedicated himself to the Blessed Virgin, making a vow of chastity.

He went to the University of Padua in Italy and studied law and theology, achieving doctorates in both subjects in 1592. He made up his mind to become a priest and made a pilgrimage to the Holy House at Loreto. Although his father continued to hope that he would marry and live the life of a nobleman, Francis resisted, until a cousin persuaded the Bishop of Geneva to appoint him Provost of the Cathedral Chapter, and his father acceded to his vocation.

He was thought to be an effective preacher and confessor and conducted many missions. In 1599 he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Geneva and in 1602 he became the diocesan bishop. He acquired a reputation as a spellbinding preacher; his motto was ‘He who preaches with love preaches effectively.’ In 1665 he was canonised and in 1877 Pope Pius IX declared him a Doctor (teacher) of the Church.