Archbishop of Hyderabad The Church in India, particularly in Tamilnadu, celebrates the feast of the missionary Jesuit martyr St. John the Britto on the 4th February. He truly stands as a most amiable figure in the missionary history of India. The Catholic Church in our country amidst its present challenging religious conditions urgently needs his heavenly intercession. All zealous Catholics must earnestly seek it.

It is quite well known in well informed Catholic quarters that St. John de Britto was born of a rich and influential Catholic family in Lisbon, Portugal, in March 1647 and that he became a Jesuit priest and came to join his missionary brethren in the Madurai mission working in Tamilnadu and that, being beheaded in Oriyur in the Marava region of Tamilnadu, he suffered martyrdom on the 4th February 1693 and that he was canonized by Pope Pius XII on the 22nd June 1947, the year on which our country attained its independence from British rule.

On the occasion of his feast this year, it is a salutary exercise on our part to meditate on the words spoken of St. John de Britto by Pope Pius XII on the occasion of his canonisation: “Moved by a higher impulse and breathing the Spirit of the Divine he left the royal palace of Portugal where he had many important offices and sought the tranquillity of the cloisters of the Society of Jesus. There he grew so perfect and faithful and attune to the norms of holiness that he was an admiration both to his brothers and to his superiors. Inflamed by the deepest apostolic zeal, he left his country, crossed the immensity of the ocean, and entered the vast regions of India, there to preach the doctrine of the love and kingdom of Jesus Christ.” What a wonderful meditation for all the missiologists of our country and for all of us priests, who through our priestly ordination, have offered ourselves to work with due diligence in the Holy Spirit in the vineyard of the Son our Lord Jesus Christ in the missionary territory of St. Thomas the Apostle!

THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD

The various names, meanings, and traditions overlapping in today’s Feast churn like the crystals in a kaleidoscope, revealing one image and then another with every slight rotation of the tube. The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is, rotate, also the Purification of Mary. But, rotate, it’s also known as the Meeting of the Lord in the Christian East. And, rotate, it’s also the Feast of Candlemas, marking forty days after Christmas, the end of that liturgical season. The multiple names and meanings of today’s Feast have given birth to surprisingly broad and varied cultural expressions. The biblical account of the Presentation is the source for the “two turtle doves” in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” for the sword piercing Mary’s Immaculate Heart in Catholic iconography, for the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, and for the Canticle prayed by all the world’s priests and nuns every single night of their lives. The Presentation is even the remote source of the frivolous American folkloric tradition of Groundhog Day.

Behind all of these names and meanings are, however, a few fundamental theological facts worth reflecting upon. The Lord Jesus Christ, forty days after His birth, in keeping with the biblical significance of the number forty and with Jewish custom, was presented in the temple in Jerusalem by His parents, Mary and Joseph. Saint Luke’s Gospel recounts the story. After the Presentation, Jesus was to enter the temple again as a boy and later as an adult. He would even refer to His own body as a temple which He would raise up in three days. Jesus’s life was a continual self-gift to God the Father from the very beginning to the very end. His parents did not carry their infant Son to a holy mountain, a sacred spring, or a magical forest. It was in His temple that the God of Israel was most present, so they brought their son to God Himself, not just to a reflection of Him in nature.

The extraordinarily beautiful temple in Jerusalem, the very building where Jesus was presented by His parents, was burned and destroyed by a powerful Roman army under the future Emperor Titus in 70 A.D. It was never rebuilt. A tourist in Rome can, even today, gaze up at the marble depictions of the sack of the Jerusalem temple carved on the inside vaults of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. Christianity has never had just one sacred place equivalent to the Jewish Temple or the Muslims’ Kaaba in Mecca. Our faith is historical, yes, but it has a global reach which does not allow it to be planted in just one culture or just one location. Christ is destined for all cultures and all times. Every Catholic church with the Blessed Sacrament is a Holy of Holies, which fully expresses the deepest mysteries of our faith. There is no strict need to go on pilgrimage to Rome or to Jerusalem once in your life. But you do have to go on pilgrimage to your local parish once a week for Mass. Every Catholic church in every place, not just one building in one place, encompasses and transmits the entirety of our faith. God’s hand must have been involved in the headship of the Church migrating from Jerusalem to Rome in the first century. Our Pope does not live in the historical cradle of the faith he represents, because Saint Peter saw no need to remain in Jerusalem in order to be faithful to his Master. The Church is where Christ is, Christ is in the Holy Eucharist, and the Holy Eucharist is everywhere.

We go to church, as the Jews went to their one temple or to their many synagogues, because God is more God in a church. And when we experience the true God, we experience our true selves. That is, we are more us when God is more God. God is interpreted according to the mode of the interpreter, when He is sought in a glowing sunset, a rushing waterfall, or a stunning mountain. In nature, God is whoever the seeker wants Him to be. In a church, however, God is protected from misinterpretation. He is surrounded and protected by His priests, saints, sacraments, music, art, and worship. In a church, God is fully clothed, equipped, and armored. He can’t be misunderstood. So we go to find Him there, to dedicate ourselves to Him there, and to receive Him there in His Body and in His Blood.

Lord Jesus, as an infant You were brought to the temple by Your parents out of religious duty. Help all parents to take their duties to God seriously, to inculcate their faith in the next generation by their words and by their actions, so that the faith will be handed on where the faith is first learned—in the family and in the home.

- Source: My Catholic Life, A journey of personal conversion!

ST. JOHN DE BRITTO, PRIEST & MARTYR (FEAST FOR INDIA)

Don Pedro II of Portugal, when a child, had among his little pages a modest boy of rich and princely parents. The young John de Britto — for that was his name — had much to bear from his careless-living companions, to whom his holy life was a reproach. A severe illness made him turn for aid to Saint Francis Xavier, a Saint well loved by the Portuguese; and when he recovered, in answer to his prayers, his mother clothed him for a year in the tunic worn in those days by the Jesuit Fathers. From that time John’s heart burned to follow the example of the Apostle of India.

When he was fifteen years old, he entered on December 17, 1662, the Lisbon novitiate of the Society of Jesus, and eleven years later, despite the determined opposition of his family and the court, he left with twenty-seven Jesuit co-disciples for Madura. Blessed John’s mother, when she had learned that her son was going to India, used all her influence to prevent him from leaving his own country, and persuaded the Papal Nuncio to intervene. But the future martyr declared firmly: God, who called me from the world into religious life, now calls me from Portugal to India. Not to respond to my vocation as I ought, would be to provoke the justice of God. As long as I live, I shall never cease to desire passage to India. His ardent

He labored in the Jesuit province of Madura, which included seven missions, preaching, converting, and baptizing multitudes, at the cost of privations, hardships, and persecutions. In 1682, struck by his success and his sanctity, his Jesuit Superiors entrusted to him the government of the entire province. To the wars of the local kings, which created ravages, disorder, pillage and death for the people, famine, pestilence, and floods came to add to the devastation of the unhappy land. Both the days and the nights of Saint John were dedicated to bringing aid to the poor Christians and pagans afflicted by so many disasters. At times he took charge of entire populations which the wars had caused to migrate. All the Christians were pursued by bands of robbers, paid by the ruling elements to prevent any increase in the influence of the disciples of Christ. Saint John’s miracles helped him, and God preserved him from the snares of his many enemies.

After four years of this major responsibility, amid the anarchy which reigned, he was seized, tortured, and nearly massacred by the pagans, then banished from the local states. His Superiors sent him back to Europe to concern himself with the affairs of the missions of India. They wrote of him: He has affronted every peril to save souls and extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ, for whose love he has been captured several times and condemned to frightful torments. He preached in Portugal at the court and in the various dioceses and universities, without ever forgetting that he was a missionary of Madura, for which he recruited many generous workers for the Gospel vineyard.

He finally went back to the land of his choice in 1690 with twenty-five Jesuits, of whom several died during the voyage. The king of Portugal took every means to obtain his return to Portugal, if not as tutor to his son, which post he had declined, then as bishop of one of the Portuguese sees, but the Saint was occupied in baptizing thousands of catechumens and instructing the pagans whom grace had touched. The brahmans were alarmed once more and conjured his death; he was tracked everywhere, but the envoys could not take him for some time. Eventually they succeeded, and his great enemy, a local ruler, exiled him with orders to imprison him and kill him secretly. But his execution by decapitation was carried out in the sight of a multitude of Christians who knew of his coming martyrdom, and who saw him pray in an apparent ecstasy, which checked the executioner’s courage for a time. They buried him and did not cease to pray at the tomb of this second Apostle to India. He was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

Source: Lives of the Saints, Our Models and Protectors

THE CHAIR OF SAINT PETER, APOSTLE (FEAST)

This feast commemorates Christ’s choosing Peter to sit in his place as the servant-authority of the whole Church.

After the “lost weekend” of pain, doubt, and self-torment, Peter hears the Good News. Angels at the tomb say to Magdalene, “The Lord has risen! Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” John relates that when he and Peter ran to the tomb, the younger outraced the older, and then waited for him. Peter entered; saw the wrappings on the ground, the headpiece rolled up in a place by itself. John saw and believed. But he adds a reminder: “…[T]hey did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). They went home. There the slowly exploding, impossible idea became reality. Jesus appeared to them as they waited fearfully behind locked doors. “Peace be with you,” he said (John 20:21b), and they rejoiced.

The Pentecost event completed Peter’s experience of the risen Christ. “… [They were all filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4a) and began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.

Only then can Peter fulfill the task Jesus had given him: “… [Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). He at once becomes the spokesman for the Twelve about their experience of the Holy Spirit— before the civil authorities who wished to quash their preaching, before the Council of Jerusalem, for the community in the problem of Ananias and Sapphira. He is the first to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. The healing power of Jesus in him is well attested: the raising of Tabitha from the dead, the cure of the crippled beggar. People carry the sick into the streets so that when Peter passed his shadow might fall on them.

Even a saint experiences difficulty in Christian living. When Peter stopped eating with Gentile converts because he did not want to wound the sensibilities of Jewish Christians, Paul says, “…I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong…. [They were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel…” (Galatians 2:11b, 14a).

At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). What Jesus said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God. On Vatican Hill, in Rome, during the reign of Nero, Peter did glorify his Lord with a martyr’s death, probably in the company of many Christians.

Second-century Christians built a small memorial over his burial spot. In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica, which was replaced in the 16th century.

Source: Franciscan Media, A nonprofit ministry of the Franciscan Friars

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