At the end of the 16th century, an Archbishop of Valencia marked its history and that of the Church, for he was elevated to the altars by pope John XXIII in 1960. Saint John de Ribera was a true Shepherd. Not satisfied with merely caring for the faithful of his diocese, he also went in search of new sheep. One of his greatest concerns was to convert the followers of Mohammed to the Catholic Faith, and after having converted them, to instruct them well in the faith.
Some of the most beautiful pages of the History of the Church are doubtlessly those written with the blood of the Martyrs who, giving their lives for love of Jesus Christ, received from the hands of their executioners both the death of their mortal bodies and the everlasting glory of immolating themselves for the One who had rescued them on the Cross. Defenseless children, heroic virgins, robust men, venerable ancients, throughout the ages and in all places, have heard the summons to give a resplendent and moving testimony to the power of the Gospel.
“Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!” These were the last words pronounced by Madame Roland, one of the vital participants of the French Revolution, before she lay her head on the block to be guillotined.
By instituting ordained ministers in his Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ inaugurated “the most elevated dignity among all of the hierarchies of the earth”, a new category of men called to actuate in persona Christi, in order to dispense the treasures of the redemption to sinful humanity, as authentic mediators between heaven and earth. These men chosen by Christ himself are participants of the authority with which He forms, sanctifies and rules his Mystical Body, and their dignity is even greater than the angels.
Perusing the pages of human history, and comparing ages long past, peoples distant from one another, and the most different cultures, we notice one common denominator: the presence of egoism, power struggles, greed and all the other vices related to pride. It is not surprising, since our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell into the trap of the evil one, thinking that by their disobedience they would become ‘like gods’ (cf Gen 3:5).
When taking a look at Ecclesiastical writings of diverse eras, our attention is called by the frequent affirmations of Pontiffs, Bishops and holy men lamenting the adversities that the Church was passing through in their days.
Who hasn’t passed through the sad situation of assisting a beloved one in their last moments? When finally he or she passes away, we continue to suffer as we contemplate their body, inert, but still loved….But, death is cruel – for it’s not satisfied to just take away life…if we don’t bury the body, a dangerous decay occurs, putting the health of the others at risk.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we find the intriguing story of an Ethiopian, minister of the Queen of Candace, who had travelled to Jerusalem to adore the true God. However, this high functionary of the court returned to his country full of uncertainties with respect to the Scriptures, which he meditated on without grasping their true meaning.
As everyone knows, the famous saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” insinuates an adaptation to the customs and culture of the places we visit, in order to feel more at ease and be more easily accepted by the inhabitants. This norm is applied, obviously, to those practices that don’t offend good morals, for it’s also true that as good Catholics we should never frequent places where this could occur. Even more, in places where our faith might be put at risk.
Throughout the ages, stories of heroes – whether true or legendary – have thrilled the hearts of the young. As a result of the disinterested courage and idealism characteristic of their age-group, adolescents dream of great undertakings. To such hearts, burning with desire for heroism, the Church has always presented models that would stimulate true valor, perfect audacity, and authentic generosity – in a word, sanctity. Who is not touched by the courageous lives of young people such as Saint Agnes, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, and Saint Maria Goretti?